The European Youth Forum needs better signal for its “call” for Quality Internships

european youth forum

Part 2 of the Sting’s Special Edition: European Employment & Youth

It was Thursday 14 November, just one day after the European Employment Forum, and the European Sting received the invitation to attend an event with the title “Internships: a call for quality” at the European Parliament, co-organized by the European Youth Forum and YouthIntergroup. Given the Sting’s significant interest and sensitivity to youth and particularly youth employment, we were happy to attend the event and contribute actively to the democratic dialogue that took place two weeks ago at the European Parliament.

Before we go any further, it is important to say here a few words about the organizers of this constructive event at the EP. The European Youth Forum is a non profit organization supported by the European Commission, the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe and particularly the Youth in Action Programme. The EYF works as a platform of representation of 99 youth organizations from all around Europe and its role is to succeed bigger and stronger youth participation in the EU decision-making. As stated, its vision is “to be the voice of young people in Europe, where young people are equal citizens and are encouraged and supported to achieve their fullest potential as global citizens”. On the other hand, YouthIntergroup is an “informal” intergroup within the European Parliament, which means that it does not express Parliament’s opinions, and is specialized on Youth policies, being comprised of members from any political group and/or any committee.

Moving on to the ideas heard at this event at the European Parliament, the dialogue was initiated by the introductory remarks of the MEP Rebecca Taylor, Vice Chair of the EP Youth Intergroup, Elise Drouet, Board Member of the European Youth Forum and Afke Schaart, Senior Director of Institutional Affairs at Microsoft. Afterwards, Mrs Liesbeth Reynders from CSR Europe gave a speech on “Quality Internships and Apprenticeships: engaging the business world-preliminary findings”. Later on, Mr Luca Scarpiello from the EP Youth Intergroup expressed his views on quality internships in Europe on a speech titled “I pay my interns-what about you?”.

YouthIntergroup Survey

“I pay my interns…what about you?!” was based on a “first” survey on the internship conditions at the EP. In the survey participated almost half the population of the interns working at the European Parliament. YoutIntergroup’s survey provided some interesting insights:

a)      Internships at the EP last between 1 and 6 months

b)      In general there is a good level of supervision/tutoring

c)       Most of the interns work in offices where they are the only stagiaire while almost 30% work in a group of interns

d)      Almost 40% of the interns at the EP receive a remuneration between 600-1000 €, 22% more than 1000 €, whereas 20% responded that they do not get any remuneration whatsoever.

e)      95% of them do administrative work, where, since it is not clarified, we must presume that traditional coffee making is also included.

f)       The “bad” payers at the EP, that means the political parties offering less than 300 € remuneration for their interns are from the worst to the best EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens/EPA, GUE/NGL, ECR and EFD.

We found the input from the YoutIntergroup quite useful, because it was the first research of this type within the EP and provided some good insights on the distance between how the legislative serves its interns and how it expects internships to be of high quality in Europe.

The Panel Discussion

The most important highlight of this event at the European Parliament was, as expected, the panel discussion between MEP Rebecca Taylor, Marco Fantini, Deputy Head of Unit, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission, Elise Drouet, Sylvie Laffarge, Director of EU Institutional Relations and Citizenship at Microsoft and Rok Primozic, Chairperson of the European Students’Union.

The Commission

We‘d like to begin here with Mr Fantini’s contribution to the dialogue. Mr Fantini chose to begin his input with an announcement of the Commission’s proposal on European Internships coming in December but made a joke that we have to be patient and that he cannot reveal any details about the long awaited proposal. Concerning the bureaucrat’s positions from the European Commission, Mr Fantini stressed the importance of quality internships in Europe. For the Italian bureaucrat a quality traineeship means to acquire skills and demonstrate skills, maintaining a good learning content during the duration of the apprenticeship. Furthermore, the Commission’s Head of Employment interestingly claimed that the traineeship experience needs to be comparable to regular jobs and not to create an “underclass of trainees”, as he put it. Moreover, he underlined the fact that there need to be rules that can be enforced in the traineeship schemes and minimum quality standards and more clarity. With clarity Mr Fantini meant the obvious, that the trainees need to be properly informed about the position and the job description. The top official from the Commission shared with us a small glimpse on where the coming proposal is coming from, saying that a research of 13.000 participants preceded the construction of the proposal. For the panel’s bureaucrat it is very important that the new proposal will is based on concrete data.

Microsoft shows the way

Now coming to the industry’s position on “Quality Internships” in the EU, Microsoft was the only expression of the employer’s perspective. We have to admit that Microsoft, represented by Mrs Sylvie Lafarge, had some very to the point and positive contribution to the dialogue established at the panel. First and foremost, Mrs Lafarge started with the simplest thing but yet the most important one, saying NO to unpaid internships and condemning them. The French high executive of Microsoft stated beyond any shadow of doubt that the ICT giant does not hire interns for free. And then she clearly argued that an intern is spending time and effort to finish a daily task and this needs always to be remunerated. Also Mrs Lafarge underlined the fact that Microsoft is the only company in Europe to sign the European Charter for Quality Internships and Apprenticeships and she invited more companies to sign the Charter.

To continue with, Mrs Drouet from the European Youth Forum, expressed later on her ideas on quality internships in Europe. She focused on the importance of remuneration during apprenticeships. What is more, she stressed the importance of the incorporation of internships inside the European educational system.

The turn of the British MEP had come and Mrs Taylor also shared with the panel and audience her concerns on internships in Europe. The MEP of ALDE also spoke about how important internships are for the professional career of European youth. She claimed that even a short work experience after university is of great importance to the young people and she emphasized on the reasons interns need to be paid even in the form of stipends to cover their travel expenses and some other basic expenses like in the form of lunch vouchers.

We close this report of the panel discussion of the event with Mr Primozic from the European Students’ Union who became the original voice of the young European students. Mr Primozic in a few words he argued that European students do not want to work for free. Furthermore, he pointed out the lack of serious mentoring during apprenticeships in Europe but also at schools.

Just before the questions of the public to the panel were launched, we were also presented with a testimonial from the well known student organization AIESEC that stressed on the positive experience that an internship provides and how it helps a student make the passage from student life to professional career.

The Sting’s Questions

At the end of the panel discussion the audience, mainly comprised by interns and students, asked questions to the panellists. After questions from young interns that stated happy and proud to work for free because it looks trendy on their CV, students that expressed some very original worries on internships, our turn came to make our own questions to the panellists:

a)      “On the 30th of October the British Supreme Court in London judged the very much promoted British “Back to Work” Programme as illegal. The main reason is that young unemployed in Britain were forced to work without pay in order to keep the jobseeker’s allowance. Was the Back to Work programme funded by the EU? And if yes why there was no control whatsoever?”

Mrs Taylor, the British MEP, answered to us that this programme was not funded at all by the EU and that according to her it is reasonable that the programme was found illegal. We wanted to ask then, why since it is so reasonable and obvious that such a programme is illegal, it kept going for so many years, but then the moderator stopped our follow up question by saying to us “Stop, Stop!”. We believe that this was done so that more students that are proud to work unpaid and invent arguments in favour of that get the opportunity to ask further questions. Given the time pressure or the unwillingness to let some challenging questions be heard in the room, we did not have the time to ask our second question to the panellists. Hence, we take the opportunity to do this right here, hoping that the panellists will be able to answer to it now at their own pace and ease. The Sting’s second question that was never heard was the following:

b)      “According to the European Economic and Social Committee, four months after the “Youth Guarantee” scheme got the green light at last June’s EU Summit, not one unemployed young was offered neither a job nor training nor apprenticeship. What is the current status of “Youth Guarantee” programme? Is there a specific implementation plan to help the EU Member States absorb the 6 billion worth EU Funds allocated for this purpose in the most effective way?”

We commit that, if we receive an answer to this question by any of the panellists, we will publish it exactly as sent to us right here.

Assessment of the event

All in all, the event “Internships: a call for quality” offered a positive democratic dialogue on the present and the future of the European internships. Various opinions were heard, from the industry to youth organizations. And polyphony is vital in democracy. However, we believe that for this polyphony to be served better more media should have been invited so that the panel accepts a few challenging questions for a change. Having events about youth internships is of majour importance for Europe and we are confident the organizers know this well. Nevertheless, not hearing one single challenging question from independent thinkers and/or a good number of media, or even making jokes in favour of non paid internships, that during the break students were begging for non paid apprenticeships, or even having the deputy Head of the European Commission for employment to make jokes and be caught completely uninformed that there are various unpaid internships in the European Commission, is not that good for the dialogue for European internships.

In a Union of 28 countries where unemployment for youth under 25 is reaching 60% for some member states, where for many young people it is literally impossible to find a job or even an internship with the broom, where the financial crisis has ravaged numerous families and SMEs, there is no space for jokes nor ignorance nor lack of information. Events on European employment should be treated with utmost seriousness and acknowledgement of the unseen gravity of the issue. Even though we witnessed a good number of students and interns that left the event a bit frustrated, the Sting always welcomes this kind of initiatives and will be always there to call for their betterment with its independent critical input.

Click on the buttons below to go to the Part 1 & Part 3 of the Sting’s Special Edition: European Employment & Youth

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