internshipsAll this week, Debating Europe will be publishing a themed series of posts looking at the issue of youth unemployment in Europe. With young people the first to be fired and the last to be hired in a crisis, this is an issue that should be high up the political agenda. On 15 May, Debating Europe will be holding an event in partnership with Friends of Europe, bringing together high-ranking policy-makers in Brussels to ask how the EU can avoid a ‘Lost Generation‘. We’ll be bringing your thoughts and comments to this event to get some reactions, and we’re starting our series today by looking at internships in Europe.

Last year, we asked you how you thought youth unemployment could be lowered in Europe, and we took some of your comments to Italy’s then-Minister of Labour, Elsa Fornero. One of the comments we received came from Jack, who was very critical of what he sees as the ‘exploitative’ treatment of interns in crisis-struck Europe:

Many of the so-called ‘employment opportunities’ for internships or apprenticeships in the UK are little more than exploitative revolving door schemes without a job offer at the end.

In terms of the figures, more than 1 in 4 young people have done at least 2 internships. Shockingly, almost 10% of young people have done 5 or more!


Yesterday, László Andor, the European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, gave a speech to the Spanish Youth Council declaring that he wanted to tighten the rules around internships:

By the end of 2013 we will put forward a proposal related to a Quality Framework for Traineeships. This should ensure that traineeships do not simply replace jobs but provide young people with high quality work experience under good conditions.

We wanted to get a variety of political views on this issue, so it would be easier for people (including interns!) to choose who to vote for in Debating Europe Vote 2014. So we spoke to members of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (the committee in the European Parliament that will be responsible for reviewing the proposed ‘Quality Framework for Traineeships’).

First, we approached German MEP Jutta Steinruck, a member of the  Social Democrats in the Parliament. How would she react to Jack’s comment that too many internships in Europe are exploitative?

steinruck-speaksAll over Europe, there are highly-qualifed  young people entering internships for one year or more, and at the end they don’t find a good, well-paid job. We have to stop this.

There should be minimum standards for internships, so that enterprises don’t abuse young people entering the labour market… There are a lot of employers who treat their interns really well, but also a lot who don’t. So, we have to force them, because if it is voluntary they will do what is best for them financially.

Do you agree with Steinruck? Then vote for the S&D group in Debating Europe Vote 2014! We’ll be taking the results to MEPs for them to react, so show your support for the group you want to see win in the European Parliament elections in 2014.

Next, we also took Jack’s comment to Marije Cornelissen, a Dutch MEP with  Greens group in the European Parliament. We’ve heard from a Socialist MEP, but how would a Green MEP react to Jack’s comment?

Again, if you like what Marije Cornelissen had to say, make sure you show your support by voting for the Greens-EFA in our Debating Europe Vote 2014!

Of course, if there is so much support for tougher rules around internships, the question is why hasn’t anything been done? Well, Heinz K. Becker, an Austrian MEP who belongs to the centre-right  Centre-Right group in the European Parliament, argues that there is actually a split in attitudes, including in the European Parliament:

Do you agree with Becker? Then vote for his group (the EPP group) to show your support!

What do YOU think? Are interns being exploited in ‘revolving door’ schemes? Should there be European minimum standards for internships? Or would greater EU-wide protection for interns just strangle Europe in red tape? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

Vote 2014

Voting is closed in our Debating Europe Vote 2014! The results are now in, so come and see what our readers thought!

26 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Debating Europe

    Hi, Xavier! The post (and, indeed, the proposed ‘Quality Framework for Traineeships’) is not just about internships in the EU institutions, but ALL internships in Europe. Apologies if the title was confusing!

  2. avatar
    Xavier Schoumaker

    I was replying to the comment made above which claims that people get abused by the EU – which somehow the user removed… So I do agree with you and I did read ;)

  3. avatar
    Davey Brown

    Internships in political parties are merely a prelude to the intern clambering aboard the gravy train and are designed to keep the working classes away from the ruling classes…. Don’t want any plebs spoiling your EU workers paradise do we?

  4. avatar
    Divine Asaba

    As a student in Management, I came to realize that the theory part of my studies are not enough to come out ready for the job market. Internships are therefore a necessity for young graduates. This does not only permit them to put into practise what they studied in school, but to also put at the disposal of the host company, the knowlege which they got from school. So it is a win-win situation WITH THE COMPANY BENEFITING FROM THE INTERNs IDEAS AND TALENTS. Unfortunate, obtaining UNPAID internships not to mention PAID INTERNSHIPS is hell. I think if students could easily get access to internships, their performance upon garduation will greatly improve.

  5. avatar
    Marie Barani

    Lots of companies use interns instead of hiring someone and pay them almost nothing or nothing. And internships are not seen as a true Professional experience. So interns are abused. This systems should be replaced by incentives for companies to hire Young people (as tax deduction) instead of taking a 6 months intern

  6. avatar
    Virag Gulyas

    What is still shocking to see is that Interns are exploited mainly in places, such as UN, SONY and other multinationals, while SMEs are attempting to offer more proper conditions….
    That is why we need a Quality Framework for Traineeships!
    It is not only exploitation but also a positive discrimination towards those people, who are better of and can afford to `work for free`and hence have better perspectives….

  7. avatar
    catherine benning

    Graduates should be eternally grateful for the benefit of an internship. They have no experience in the real world and until they know what they are doing they are often a liability rather than an asset. It is costly to take on paying a on productive individual in a flagging financial down turn. It can be the difference between make or break. So, accept the idea for what it is and opportunity to learn for free.

    And, on the matter of should Europe take on more people rather than less in employment opportunities, don’t you think, ‘before’ they opened us up to more states and more people in desperate need they should have organised employment, housing and health care prior to taking such a giant leap? What was being thought about when you did this without a plan for the practicalities? Did you really believe that the load you dumped on the European tax payer would just be absorbed without any fall out?

    A good start would be not taking on anyone from outside the EU unless and until all the people inside it have some kind of method to make a living and gain experience. Or, is that another idiot thought of must have ‘equality’ for all regardless of circumstance, aptitude and citizenship?

  8. avatar
    Nikolaos Sotirelis

    It’s absurd. It’s the worst kind of manipulation and exploit. The interns are forced to work for the companies, without salary, without insurance, only with the hope that they’ll be hired in the end. Almost no one does. They don’t even count as unemployed.

  9. avatar
    Virag Gulyas

    Nikolaos, I agree on the big picture, but do not generalize so vaguely: there are companies, which fight for intern rights and give them stipend, insurance etc – and give them perspectives to be hired :)

  10. avatar
    Shaun Daley

    No – there should be no rules. We should have complete freedom to create and define useful learning experiences (internships or otherwise), without petty bureaucratic obstacles.

    We have far too many laws and regulations. Laws and rules would surely be more effective in shaping our behavior (their raison d’etre) if they were sufficiently sparse and simple for us to know and understand them.

  11. avatar
    Nikolaos Sotirelis

    Dearest Virag you may be right, but you can’t count on the humanitarian pay policy of a company. Except if you are its president’s child!
    I suppose that we’re living in a advanced society, in which there are laws that prevent companies from exploit its weaker and more vulnerable groups. I suppose so! Aren’t we?

  12. avatar
    Dochka Hristova

    Catherine Benning says in one of the above comments that “Graduates should be eternally grateful for the benefit of an internship… accept the idea for what it is and opportunity to learn for free.”

    I do agree with the first part of her argument and think that most graduates (or at least the ones I know, myself included) feel a deep sense of gratitude to their first employers who hired them as interns. At the same time, many recent graduates can’t rely on their parents to be supported in the financial crisis and some are even indebted because they have taken loans to invest in their own higher education. I believe that Catherine would agree with this point.

    Further, Shaun Daley thinks that “there should be no rules” because they create “petty bureaucratic obstacles”. To tackle the aforementioned money problem, one doesn’t need many rules – just one rule and that is a rule for a minimum intern allowance, corresponding to the living standard of the respective European country.

    This, of course, is not the only solution to the money problem – perhaps, some interns are after all better-off than others and don’t need money in return for their work or some employers, as Catherine mentioned, can’t afford to pay their interns a minimum allowance. If this is the case, a competitive and prestigious Intern EU Fund could be created as an alternative way to tackle this problem. The fund will be open for those interns who can’t afford to do the internship for which they have successfully applied.

  13. avatar
    Paul X

    Yet again people need to take a reality check.
    It’s all fine and dandy spouting off about “exploitation” and how companies should be paying these people but at the end of the day the companies are doing the interns a favor NOT the other way round.
    Unskilled people in the workforce need guidance and training, this itself puts a burden on a commercial company where employees are diverted from their primary tasks to mentor interns
    If you force companies to not only train these people but also pay them then the simple fact is they will not take them on

  14. avatar

    The figure of unpaid internships without any regulation generates incentives for companies to: a) not to hire interns at the end of the process, as someone else will replace them for free; b) for the same reason, not to properly train their interns, as why would a company spend money training someone who is going to be out in a few months? c) keep interns doing simple jobs, often ones that no-one else wants to do -typing, photocoping, archiving…
    In sum, the result from unregulated unpaid internships are less young people with a job, and less young people with valuable experience.

  15. avatar
    Paul X

    An internship is never meant to lead to a guarantee of a job, it is to give people work and life experience. Interns are additional to a companies scaled workforce, you cannot offer them a job after their internship if there is no vacancy to be filled

    And any company that just uses them for menial tasks will soon not be able to attract them. Feedback on internships gets back to colleges and universities and no-one will bother applying go to a company that treats them badly, interns want to go to a company that teaches them something useful. It doesn’t need regulations to interfere with the process which regulates itself by peoples choice

  16. avatar

    @Paul, your argument may be right at a small scale, for internships addressed to people from top universities, business schools, etc. These are (more often than not) people with access to information and economic resources not everyone can access. However, since not all of us live under such happy circumstances, the state needs to provide protection to ensure that companies do not exploit youth.

  17. avatar
    Palma Muñoz Morquilla

    I think there should be a regulation common to all the EU States that guarantees protection to interns and avoid exploitation. Rights and obligations should be clear for interns and employers: a training plan, a minimum wage, a minimum and a maximum period of time, recognition of the period of time spent as an inter for the computation of years necessary for the retirement.
    Crisis cannot be the excuse to have people in their 30s with a university degree, two or three masters and 3 internships as working experience and still working as an intern and without the rights, social security etc of an employee.

  18. avatar
    Paul X

    What I say doesn’t just relate just to top universities etc
    The majority of people don’t apply for an internship off their own back, they usually find out about them from a university, college, school or even a career or job club. If one person joins a company as an intern and finds they are only doing mundane tasks and not benefitting from the experience, they are perfectly entitled to walk out the door go back to where they found out about the internship and explain why. It is then doubtful that company will get any more interns from that particular source

    I find it difficult to accept words like “exploitation” when it is purely voluntary and with no pay or contract in place they are perfectly free to walk out the door
    My belief is any regulation which “empowers” interns will decrease the likely hood of companies taking them on.

    Some interns may get benefit from doing “menial” tasks just for the experience of getting up in the morning and entering a working environment, if the EU tries to force companies to invest more time and effort into creating what it considers meaningful employment then the intern opportunities will just become less

    And who exactly is going to define what is “meaningful” and what is “exploitation”? I work in an engineering company, we have regular interns and I like to think we give them a good balance of experience, who in the EU is qualified to visit my company and dictate what interns should and shouldn’t be doing?

    All I see is yet more unnecessary, expensive and as usual, unenforceable legislation from the Brussels regulation production line

  19. avatar
    Richard W. Jacquard

    Yes I am, a strong prosperous unified Europe is within our reach, the UK must rollout concrete and avant-garde plans to rebalance her economy over the next generation

  20. avatar

    To the people who are saying that interns should be grateful and that they can always go back to their “sources” and report abuse in the workplace – I say, where did you work your work experience from?

    Because I have work experience from three EU countries with hugely different outcome: my firsts roles where in Greece, where people were behaving like I should be forever grateful for being in the same room. Of course I wasn’t getting paid. And I later found out that in one of these internships, which I got by knocking on doors because they are almost never advertised, the some of the tasks that I was given corresponded to an actual paid position that was part of the budget. The money, as you can imagine, where going into my bosses’ pockets. I had the luxury to leave, but it was a luxury!

    Then I got work experience from the UK – when I was doing interviews with big companies they had pretty much the same attitude – you should be thankful if you do your third internship with us. Then I got an actual job in a SME that treated me very well.

    I Brussels my life has been unexpectedly easy, but it was pure luck. I had one interview for an internship that had huge responsibilities (i.e. permanent employer’s responsibilities) and an intern’s salary. They were CLEARLY looking for cheap labor (and it was a huge company).

    So, yes, we need rules and regulations (and not to mention that it is despicable that the UN is not paying its interns).

  21. avatar
    Paul X

    Lets keep it simple…….

    No company HAS to take on interns so if you make the rules for taking them on “tougher” the simple fact is there will be less intern opportunities. So exactly who is supposed to benefit from this? (apart from those who are paid to create EU regulations)

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