Unemployment in the eurozone is at its lowest rate for more than three years. Are the days of crisis and austerity finally behind us? Have we hit rock bottom? Surely things can only get better?

Well, it depends how old you are. Some workers are definitely feeling the benefits more than others; youth unemployment being twice as high as regular unemployment, and in some countries (such as Greece, Spain, and Italy) more than 40% of job seekers under the age of 25 are unable to find work.

But there are opportunities available for young people, as long as they are willing to work for free. In 2013, there were 4.5 million internships in Europe: 60% of them were unpaid; 40% didn’t even include a formal contract with employers; and over half (51%) of those interns who were paid said the amount was not sufficient to cover their basic living costs.

And some young people enjoy working for free so much that they do it over and over again! One in three interns say they have completed at least three internships without successfully finding a job. Needless to say, critics argue that this system severely disadvantages workers from less wealthy backgrounds, who cannot afford to support themselves financially (and aren’t willing to live in a tent as a recent UN intern was discovered doing).

To give you an idea about youth unemployment and internships in Europe, we’ve put together some facts and figures in an infographic below (click for a larger image).


We had a comment sent in from Paul, agreeing that youth unemployment is a huge problem in Europe, and arguing that cutting regulation and increasing the possibilities for traineeships (including relaxing the rules around unpaid internships) would definitely help.

To get a response, we spoke to Nicolas Schmit, Minister of Labour, Employment and Immigration. Luxembourg has one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in Europe, so how would Minister Schmit respond to Paul?

schmitI certainly agree with Paul on cutting red tape. I think there is some margin to do that, and this is partly a national issue because it’s wrong to say that all the wrong tape comes from Europe – a lot of it comes from our national regulations and administrative burdens.

The second point is that certainly it’s useful to pave the way for young professionals into the labour market by giving them better professional experience, but this has to be done with some limits and in a clear framework. Because it’s not normal that young people to stay for a very long time in unstable working relationships, and sometimes even in working relationships which are not paid. So, I think [relaxing the rules around internships] is not the right way to fight unemployment.

Certainly, it’s useful to have internships to give young people good professional experience, but this has to be clearly put into a framework. And there is, by the way, a recommendation by the Commission on internships, which does not abolish internships, but they cannot be a hidden form of work which is unpaid and does not give any rights to young people and puts them into a very precarious situation for very long.

To get another perspective, we also spoke to Ankica Paun Jarallah, Director General of the Croatian Employment Service. Croatia has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the EU (43.1% in the second quarter of 2015). How would she react?

jarallahInternships may represent for individuals an easier way to enter a specific firm, or the labour market in general. But internships should be a paid form of work and EU Member States will have to find the [framework] to regulate it. People engaged in internship are in fact working, performing everyday duties in the work place, and all work has to be paid. We are talking about decent work, good quality jobs, so then why shouldn’t we have paid internships?

Are young Europeans doomed to a life of internships? Is it wrong that almost half of all internships in Europe are unpaid? Would relaxing the rules around internships help slash youth unemployment rates? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Patrick Haney – Banksy in Boston


The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsi­ble for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

66 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Xavier Schoumaker

    If it was the case in 2007 – with the “measures” towards more slavery (“competitiveness”) – I cannot imagine how bad it is today.

  2. avatar
    Samer Hadchity

    In some cases depending on the given responsibilities, I find unpaid internship wrong. If we ask internships for a job and we expect them to deliver good results, it wouldn’t be fair to not pay them. However I strongly agree that this should be under a defined framework…

  3. avatar
    Siegfried Kobler

    Our System is created by elitists for elitists needs, peopleare not treated like people, but rather as a product, products have labels and quality standards, workers have cv’s, and the elitists companies have expectations of what they want in workers, but life is not always orderly, people sometimes dont finish school, or they have personal problems, and then they cant get a job and provide for themselves, this system is not humane, people are thrown away like garbage rather than being helped.

  4. avatar
    Paul X

    The problem is people seem to view Interns as cheap (or even free) labor for companies and that they are being exploited the minute they work through the door. While there maybe a few companies that do abuse Interns I believe they are a small minority, and the majority of companies, certainly the major ones with a decent reputation, look after their Interns. Nobody is forced to take an internship and if a company has a reputation for exploitation then I’m sure that would spread throughout the student network and its a simple matter of avoiding that company

    What people also forget is that Interns are a training burden on the company they work for. You cannot expect them to turn up and immediately start doing productive tasks, I do a lot of Intern mentoring for our company and some days it takes up quite a lot of my time and that is time that I’m not being productive for the company (and I don’t get paid any extra for).
    Internships are mainly there for the benefit of the student not the company, I see them as an extended interview, if they work well over the internship then that puts then in a very strong position when applying for a job at that company and if they also get a respectable wage when doing it then that is a bonus for them

  5. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    You have a million migrants per year entering the job market so your unemployment problem is going to get worse, a lot worse.

  6. avatar
    Stelios Bourodimos

    We need a mentality of full employment not only as a human right for both citizens and migrants, but as a precondition for growth. Europe needs a New Social Deal.

  7. avatar
    Naël Kolbert

    It’s ridiculous asking newly qualified graduates to work for nothing! I’m going onto my third internship and having to take out a loan to pay travel expenses, rent and other living expenses, on top of my loan for education, is sickening… The other option is government programmes like jobsbridge here in Ireland which pay less than 400e per month for a full time work… :S

    • avatar
      Paul X

      To be honest graduates shouldn’t be applying for internships, internships are for undergraduates and students, in fact our company will not take a graduate on an internship unless they are still studying, for example going on to a masters degree

      Graduates are qualified people and they should be applying for full time jobs or graduate schemes. but at the end of the day it all boils down to what they have graduated in, if it is a decent subject then there are plenty of opportunities out there, if it is some worthless subject like “History of Art” then good luck finding a job with that one

  8. avatar

    I understand Germany has the need to import migrant labor force from outside Eu, so I suppose not.

  9. avatar
    Raül Garcia

    It depends on the country you do the internship. In Spain, many companies offer not paid internships to students for 6 months. Then they “fire” them and look for new students. Quality work done for free. Welcome to the immoral south Europe.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      I disagree. As I’ve already stated, Interns put a cost burden onto a company with a training requirement and I know from personal experience just how time consuming mentoring a student is.
      You cannot train up an intern to do any “quality work” within 6 months in fact our company won’t take on anyone for that short period for the very reason that the time invested in training them up is not repaid with enough productive output
      If people are taking on internships where they are just doing menial tasks which require no training then that is stupidity on their part

  10. avatar
    Dorraine Chatelain

    Me and a couple of other people did our degree late in life hoping to change directions and work for NGOs UN etc..we are highly experienced and speak 4 languages however we have all been told no as internships are for the young and we are 40 and now what a degree that was expensive no connections and no chance of making any without an internship.

  11. avatar
    Bryn Watkins

    I was sad but not at all surprised to see that interns in Belgium are the least well-paid in Europe. The Brussels job market is full of offers for unpaid or poorly paid internships for which you need not just excellent academic qualifications but also real work experience. Surely these are what the old-fashioned amongst us call “jobs”? But still, there are enough young Europeans willing or desperate enough to take one or more of these ‘internships’ as they try and start their career in the (highly competitive) capital of Europe. Employers gladly exploit the situation and gain in the short-term, but is this in anyone’s long-term interest? The effects on social justice and young people’s well-being are obvious, but the whole economy suffers as these new workers waste their talents in a series of precarious short-term roles that neither use nor develop their skills to the full. Eventually a growing number of unpaid internships will start to replace stable paid work, throwing not just young people but all workers into a precarity that undermines their living standards and heightens social inequality.

    A depressing story. But, in answer to your question whether young people are doomed to this, I say NO. You are only doomed to that which cannot be changed, or that which you do not fight. As the Partnerships Collaborator of the Brussels Interns NGO (B!ngo), a voluntary organisation that campaigns for quality internships in Belgium and Europe, I help our team work with a network of youth groups to argue for quality internships that serve as a real learning experience to help young people make the transition from education to our ever more complex world of work. We believe there is a real need for legislation to ensure that interns receive real training, a clear contract with a named supervisor, meaningful tasks, health insurance, social security and, yes indeed, fair remuneration. We have organised protests and debates with politicians and submitted questions to the European Commission with MEPs. We help connect young people with providers of quality internships and we produce resources to help internship-seekers and -providers get the most out of the experience. The European Council and Parliament back our values, and the Commission responds positively to our input. Now, we are looking to achieving meaningful change here in Belgium, as others have managed elsewhere in Europe.

    Things might be bad, but Europe has seen worse. You’re only doomed if you give in – let’s come together and take our future back.

  12. avatar
    Dimitar Hadzhiev

    Well educated but in what sphere ? Most young people choose to study soft subjects mainly connected with humanitarian sciences arts etc, while the EU is hungry fo engineers,doctors,programmers. In my opinion the state is responsible for establishing a better connection between the labour market and the academic institutions.

    • avatar

      It hurt while reading a comment in here that said Art History was worthless.So you say the EU is hungry for engineers and architects but can you imagine a museum with no visitors, curators, conservation staff etc? Every job is needed in society. Social sciences can get one a lot of money. Have you ever worked for an art collector as an adviser? Have you seen the money art fairs make each year? Haven’t you noticed the spread of art galleries where you’re from? It’s funny how someone gets ridiculed for going to art school but then everyone admires a Monet painting. Have you ever heard of Jeff Koons? I wonder if a doctor or an engineer will ever get as much money as this guy did these past few years. Some art historians work in tourism, some in design, some in conservation companies. They can work together with people who design chairs for IKEA you’re currently sitting on. They can be the ones giving you tours in museums or cities when you travel abroad. It’s not a huge market out there for them but there are not as many art history graduates as med school ones. Please let’s not think some professions are more dignified than others.

  13. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Europe must ponder on what kind of future generations does it want, apart from its politics and economic model. Where our leaders go wrong, is that they try to formulate first the economic model and then the society of people which it is supposed to exist for.

    In reality they should work the other way around. First plan what kind of future European society they want, then reform their country’s education and economy around it. Thus their main concern should be education, not the banking system.

  14. avatar
    Joel Dominic Rodrigues

    For goodness sake, what we need is more entrepreneurship, more risk taking. “Where is my job”!? Who do you think is obligated to take the risks to create jobs? Many of the same people complaining about the lack of jobs also lean toward anti-capitalist and anti-free trade thinking. Then we have the “greens” & the leftists politicians capitalizing on base populism.

  15. avatar
    Jeremy Bornstein

    Cutting ”red tape” can do more harm than good and is often an excuse to justify watering down employee contact law. There should be universal job contracts in each member state requiring the same rules having to do with a minimums standard for all types of registered work. EU member states such as Spain,France and Poland are foolish to not have the type of contract universality that Germany,Austria or Denmark has. Europeans aren’t Indians, Americans or Chinese. Our strength is in producing high quality products and culture that need as much human capital and healthy rested productive brain power. Countries like Germany and Denmark have low youth unemployment relative to most of the EU because of this aim for quality.

  16. avatar
    Jaime Martins

    If people in their 70s, are forced to continue working, young people can not replace them. People need to have an income, in order to live.

  17. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    what government and big business does not want to acknowledge is that small companies, all the way from “self employed” to “100 people” or so, generate the most employment and the most revenue in sales.
    And that is where the “economic incentives” should be concentrated.
    Instead of the “large big business”.

  18. avatar

    What government and big business does not want to acknowledge is that small companies, all the way from “self employed” to “100 people” or so, generate the most employment and the most revenue in sales. And that is where growth has happened. Not in large companies!

    And that is where the “economic incentives” should be concentrated if one wants to solve the unemployment problem.

    Instead of the “large big business”.

  19. avatar
    Manuel Maria de Sousa

    The picture of the portuguese economy is changing rapidly. The debacle of some big corporations (banks, telecoms, building sector…) forced the entrepeneurs to direct themselves into smaller, more flexible businesses.

  20. avatar
    Daryl Woodlee

    In several European countries, political parties are using fear of foreigners to gain votes. The #EU wants to reduce #greenhouse gas emissions.

  21. avatar
    Noelle McCavana

    Work for a rich company for nothing in the hope of a job at the end? Cynical exploitation which should be discouraged by governments instead of supported.

  22. avatar
    Zsuzsi Rábai

    Of course it is wrong, especially since many fresh graduates does not have an alternative, either they work for free as an intern or stay at home being unemplyed…

  23. avatar
    Horia Andrei

    As long as the big companies and not only them also the states are not interested to have good reliable working force ,and only when they need that working force they invest , it is sad to see young people strugling to have a solid backround and also a stable job as they lose time to learn and study to become our future !

  24. avatar
    Dóris Cavalcanti

    Those statistics about unemployment are not trustful, at least, in Sweden that doesn’t include people in working age who are studying and living in social contributions for students. How many other countries use dishonest tricks like this to misguide people?

    Besides, the statistics of 2015 didn’t include those waves of refugees yet that will affect the data hugely since the majority is grown up men in working age.

  25. avatar
    Summer Breeze

    It is ridiculous…. Firms only ’employee’ interns to work, so they don’t pay for labor. When one internship ends, they get another…. They want slaves, not workers.

  26. avatar
    Mads Hagemann Nielsen

    You aren’t taken as serious when you are unpaid compared to paid. No Investment are lost in you when you leave after the internship. Just free labour for 3-4 months. It could be a small salary that could help with the studies or pay off student loans if you have taken any.

  27. avatar
    Can Gökçe

    Im paid-intern in Finland. And here all internships are covered by either govt or corps.

  28. avatar

    For the one who wrote that “If people are taking on internships where they are just doing menial tasks which require no training then that is stupidity on their part”,

    it is for him pretty easy to judge the others since he is currently in a position to impose his own rules at his workplace. But either students or “graduates” are not in such a comfort. Their colleagues are often reluctant to trully assist them with proper training or help them socialize with their millieu. If an intern wants to gain some pieces of useful professional/scientific knowledge, then at first he/she must be a lot of times the “errand boy”, or the “pretty easy-going girl”, or the one that shares the same political doctrines with the boss or the older colleagues (true stories, especially in places like Greece). And this happens only for “interns”. Unfortunatelly, “menial tasks” are prerequisites for an intern in order to be acceptable by his/her environment. Of course, any businessman/corporate member/HR staff here may disdain this fact. But it remains a fact. Especially in the south. As a result, the quality of an internship and the earned know-how may easily be disputable. And it has nothing to do with “stupidity” as aforementioned, but only with power games and exploitation of an intern’s fear of future unemployment.

  29. avatar
    Guilherme Abreu

    Here in Brazil all companies have to pay for interns. Depending on the subject chosen there are plenty of opportunities. Im finishing Industrial engineering and I really wanted to work in EU. I speak german, english and spanish and have experience in a few multinationals. But, since I could not afford to pay for my own living expenses I wont go. To be honest with you guys, its quite disappoint this position adopted by the european community. It shows little/no respect to their own new graduated students.

  30. avatar

    There certainly are different views on this but despite of our considerations, addiction to social media might cause individuals to lose out on other things in life. That is why we need to balance what we do.

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