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January 2010, Volume 17, Number 1

Southern Europe

Spain. Spain has the EU's highest unemployment rate, over 19 percent, including 30 percent for foreigners (35 percent for Moroccans) in Fall 2009. The rate for youth 16 to 24 was 43 percent, with bleak prospects because of the expected slow recovery in construction, retail, and restaurant sectors that often hire them. Youth unemployment is between 25 and 30 percent in Greece, Italy and Ireland.

One reason for the high youth unemployment rate was the government's effort to make the labor market more flexible, keeping protections for "regular" workers but allowing employers to hire workers on temporary contracts for E1,000 ($1,450) a month (the Spanish minimum wage in 2009 was E624 ($925) a month). However, "mil euristas" were often the first to be laid off in the recession.

The number of foreigners in Spain rose from 750,000 in 1999 to 5.5 million in 2009, or from less than two percent of residents to over 12 percent. The largest groups of foreigners in Spain include Romanians, 796,576; Moroccans, 710,401; and Ecuadorians, 413,715.

Many of these foreigners arrived between 2000 and 2003, when Spain had Europe's fastest economic and job growth. At the height of the economic boom in 2005, almost 80 percent of the foreigners in Spain, compared to 55 percent of Spaniards, were in the labor force. Most foreign workers in Spain arrived in another status, found jobs, and were granted authorization to work. As of August 2009, Moroccans were 23 percent of the foreigners in Spain covered by unemployment insurance; Ecuadorians, 13 percent; and Romanians, 12 percent.

Since 2004, Spanish government policy has aimed to restrict first-time work authorization to foreigners outside Spain, to include local governments in determining how many foreign workers to admit, and to more formally involve employers and unions in making migrant worker policy. The Spanish government negotiated bilateral agreements with 11 countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa; Morocco, Colombia, Ecuador, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Senegal, Bulgaria, Senegal, Mexico and Ukraine.

As the unemployment rates of foreign workers shot up in 2009, the Spanish government reduced the quotas and froze recruitment under the bilateral agreements. In 2006, 16,900 work permits were issued to foreigners to fill jobs lasting at least a year, 650 job search visas were granted for foreigners with specialized skills, and 570 job search visas were granted to the (foreign) children or grandchildren of Spanish citizens. In 2008, the number of work permits issued for more-than-one-year jobs fell to 15,700, and for 2009 to about 1,500.

Second, the Spanish government offered return bonuses to jobless non-EU migrants who returned to their countries of origin and agreed not to return to Spain for at least three years (Spain cannot block the entry of EU nationals). Migrants entitled to unemployment benefits can receive 40 percent of the benefits they would normally receive upon departure, and 60 percent at least 30 days later in their country of origin, an average total payment of E9,000 ($13,500). In the first eight months of the program some 5,400 mostly Latin American migrants, five percent of the 108,000 eligible migrants, accepted the return bonus payments.

Third, the government took steps to integrate resident foreigners and restrict family unification. The government proposed to explicitly grant foreign workers union rights, give foreign children up to age 18 the right to go to school in Spain, and make legal foreign residents eligible for housing assistance. Restrictions on where migrants can work in Spain are to be dropped in order to encourage them to move to jobs. At the same time, the bill would limit family unification to children under 18 and expand the maximum detention period from 40 to 60 days.

Italy. Several Italian cities whose leaders are linked to the Northern League political party launched "Operation White Christmas" campaigns in November-December 2009 that had police visiting homes with non-EU foreigners to check for unauthorized foreigners. In Coccaglio, a 8,000-resident city near Milan that is 20 percent foreigners, police checked for foreigners whose permits were expiring at the behest of the city council, which can withdraw residence rights.

The Northern League is a member of the ruling coalition government and leads the Interior Ministry. In May 2009 a new law linked the duration of residence permits to the duration of employment permits and made them valid for a maximum of one year. The new law makes illegal immigration a criminal offence punishable by a fine of ?5,000 to ?10,000 and allows unarmed citizen patrols to help police seek unauthorized foreigners.

Italy had 4.3 million foreign residents at the end of 2008, up from 1.3 million in 1998; the three leading nationalities are Romanian, Moroccan and Albanian. About two million foreigners are in the Italian labor force.

Greece. Greece detained over 148,000 irregular foreigners in 2008, up from 58,000 in 2002. Many Africans and Asians travel to Turkey and use smugglers to try to enter Greece via Greek islands near the Turkish coast. The Greek government accuses Turkey of not doing enough to deter smugglers.

The Greek government struggled with a public debt that exceeds Greek GDP in December 2009. The socialist government elected in October 2009 pledged to reduce government spending, crack down on tax evasion, and stop hiring public employees? a quarter of Greeks are public employees. There are nevertheless fears that, as the European Central Bank raises interest rates, one or more of the so-called Piigs? Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain? could have trouble making payments on sovereign debt.

Balkans. The Balkans have small populations, high unemployment rates, and uneven growth rates. Serbia, with 7.2 million residents and only 1.9 million employed workers, had almost 760,000 unemployed workers in summer 2009 and a per capita GDP of $12,000, adjusted for purchasing parity.

Most Balkan nations send workers abroad, and most of the migrant workers are women? about 54 percent of the eight million residents who have left the Balkans (and Romania and Bulgaria) are women. Bulgaria's Montana district is reportedly almost devoid of working age women, most have left for Italy and Spain.

Macedonia, with two million residents and only 620,000 employed workers in mid-2009, had a 35 percent unemployment rate and a GDP per capita of $9,000 at PPP; wages average about $475 a month. Macedonia approved a law in September 2009 that allows holders of Macedonian passports, regardless of birthplace or current residence, to vote in Macedonian elections; the next Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2012. The major diasporas are in Australia, Canada and the US.

Romania. Up to 10 percent of Romanians ages 15 to 64 are employed abroad, over 2.5 million workers.

Turkey. Turkey has continued to negotiate over entry into the EU. In December 2009, negotiations opened on the twelfth of 35 chapters. So far, only the chapter on science and research policy has been completed; Cyprus, France, Germany and Austria have threatened to block the opening of negotiations on labor mobility and fundamental rights.

The slow pace of entry negotiations, and the fact that EU candidates Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia received visa-free travel in December 2009, has prompted some Turks to look eastward in a bid to re-create parts of the Ottoman Empire via trade and investment. Turkey is richer than former Ottoman colonies Iraq and Syria and Turkic-speaking countries such as Turkmenistan.

The ruling Justice and Development Party in November 2009 announced plans to revise the country's constitution, which was drafted after a military coup in 1980. Its provisions now restrict the right of the 10 million to 15 million Kurds to use their own language in all broadcast media and political campaigns and to restore Kurdish names to cities that were given Turkish ones.