July 2014, Volume 21, Number 3
Greece. A strawberry grower and three foremen went on trial in June 2014, charged with grievous bodily harm to 28 Bangladeshis who were injured when they were shot while protesting unpaid wages in April 2013. The 28 injured Bangladeshis were given temporary protection in Greece; another 100 Bangladeshis at the farm are believed to still be in Greece.
Greece's economy shrank by a quarter between 2008 and 2014, and the unemployment rate was 27 percent in spring 2014. Greek public debt is 175 percent of GDP, and is projected to decline slowly under economic reforms that are being guided by the EU and IMF, which praised the Greek government for reducing its workforce (at one point, a quarter of Greeks worked for the government) and improving tax collections. The European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF provided $325 billion in loans to Greece since 2010.
To shrink public employment, 25,000 government workers were put on reduced pay for eight months and fired if they did not find another public sector job during that period. Greek courts have ruled that these terminations of government workers were unlawful, and ordered the government to rehire the fired workers.
Italy. Migrants continue to arrive in Lampedusa and Italy from Libya. Over 60,000 arrived in the first six months of 2014, more than the total in 2013 and on track to surpass the 62,000 who arrived in 2011. In June 2014, 30 dead migrants were found in a fishing vessel that held more than 500 other migrants.
About half of the migrants who arrive in Italy seek or were granted asylum. Italy spends about E200 million a year on asylum seekers, including E44 million a year provided by the EU, and is seeking more EU aid. The Italian government said that two-thirds of the African migrants arriving in Italy leave for other EU countries.
The anti-immigration Northern League party wants the Italian Navy's Mare Nostrum effort to assist boats that bring migrants to southern Italian ports stopped, saying that naval aid encourages more migrants to set out for Italy in small boats. The government says that turmoil in Syria, Sudan and other countries pushes migrants out of their countries.
Africans do much of the farm work in southern Italy. Some of the Africans arrive with written contracts from farmers that allow them to obtain seasonal work permits, but the farmers who obtained the contracts may not have jobs for them. Because the migrants paid for the contracts, many turn to contractors to get jobs. Most contractors take migrant passports and pay daily wages, typically E20 to E30 a day. Farmers normally pay the contractor to have work done, and the contractor is responsible for paying the workers.
Farm labor contractors are spreading throughout Italian agriculture, keeping much of the difference between what farmers pay to have work done and wages paid to workers.
Italy is struggling to grow again after its economy shrank by almost 10 percent between 2008 and 2014, a period during which the disposable income of the average household fell by almost 15 percent. Italy's public debt is 130 percent of its GDP, second only to Greece, and the government wants the EU to relax the Stability and Growth Pact that puts an emphasis on reducing public debt toward 60 percent of GDP.
Over 98 percent of Italian firms have fewer than 15 employees, and many are owned by families whose wealth and identity is tied up in their businesses, making them reluctant to take risks. Many of these family businesses evade taxes, and high payroll taxes discourage them from creating formal sector jobs.
Italy is considered to have the worst business climate among large European economies, lacking an efficient rule of law and reliable public administration. Legal disputes often drag on for decades. Italy has four times more lawyers than France, and at the end of 2012 there was a backlog of almost 10 million cases pending in the court system.
Efforts to make the justice system and labor markets more flexible are resisted by those who may lose and, in the case of displaced workers, not find new jobs. Even when reform governments enact laws to increase labor market flexibility, some of the new laws bring about few changes because regulations dilute their impacts.
Spain. Spain reported 1.6 million registered foreign workers in April-May 2014, including 244,200 Romanians; 59,000 Italians; 52,000 British; 49,000 Bulgarians; and 40,000 Portuguese.
African migrants continue to try to enter the EU via Spain's two enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla, the only land borders with the EU in Africa. Both of the Spanish enclaves are ringed by three parallel fences, two of them 20 feet tall and three feet apart. Migrants use ladders to climb the fences and enter the Spanish enclaves. On May 28, 2014 about 500 of the 1,000 migrants who tried to scale the fences succeeded. Spanish police are prevented by EU guidelines from using force to prevent entries.
About 4,200 migrants entered Ceuta and Melilla in 2013, and Spanish officials say that up to 80,000 African migrants are waiting in Morocco for an opportunity to enter. Those who enter the Spanish enclaves from Morocco are sent to shelters that provide food, housing and medical care as well as lessons in Spanish and computers.