BLACK SEA BLOG: Romanian brain drain

By bne IntelliNews October 21, 2011

Bogdan Preda in Bucharest -

The implications of the government's failure to put in place the sort of policies that would encourage Romanians to stay at home rather than make money working or committing crime abroad are terrifying.

Eurostat statistics show that more than 2m Romanians are resident in other EU countries, having left the country to work abroad since the country broke with communism in 1989, most of them to Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the UK. The numbers are in fact believed to be higher if illegal workers are included, making Romanians the most numerous migrants within all of the EU.

Another huge wave of Romanians left to try their luck in EU countries after 2007, when the country joined the trading bloc and visas were lifted. But then so too did a lot of Poles and Bulgarians.

Still, of the 2,000 young criminals aged between 10 and 18 years taken into custody in the UK over the last year, 63 were found to be from Somalia, 48 from Romania, 41 from Jamaica, and only after come the young criminals from Afghanistan, Nigeria and Algeria. Romanian leading business daily Ziarul Financiar asked in an editorial in August: "How did Romania manage to push itself alongside with Somalia, Jamaica, Afghanistan and Nigeria?... Romania is a country that's ignoring its citizens, it has forgotten them... It has lost its significance as an organisation for its citizens."

Romania appears to be the only EU country generating so much criminality outside its borders, especially in other member states such as the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy and France. They're not Czechs or Slovaks, Hungarians or Poles, or even Bulgarians, the neighbouring country that joined the EU at the same time as Romania.

The more serious issue is not, however, that some Romanians are committing crimes abroad - actually, that there are less criminals in Romania is one of the indirect benefits that the lifting of visas has brought - but that Romanians of all stripes have lost faith in the idea of building a future at home. This phenomenon has massive implications for the economy and the foreseeable consequences are terrible.

Skills shortage

The country has lost and continues to lose its best physicians, nurses, teachers, engineers and many other types of experts. And how could doctors, for example, not be tempted by offers advertised at job fairs periodically organised in the country's biggest cities to work in Western Europe for up to €10,000 a month when they only get the equivalent of between €300 to €1,500 a month at home depending on their degree of expertise.

The terrifying consequences of such skills disappearing abroad is that the quality of services in Romanian hospitals has decreased dramatically to such an extent that Romanians who earn considerably more than the average net monthly wage equivalent to about €350 often resort to travel to clinics in Austria or Germany to get themselves treated. People are discouraged by the lack of basic medicines and normal medical supplies in hospitals at home, plus the customary bribes that the vast majority have to pay for care in state hospitals, which they are entitled by law to receive for free under their state health insurance. And this is happening even as the health budget has doubled from 10 years ago. Why? Because corrupt practices in the health system result in public money being spent on preferential acquisitions and contracts that don't have an immediate effect on the quality of services.

Similarly, parents who can afford to pay don't waste a minute looking for high schools or universities in the country, but pay for their children to study in Western Europe or the US. And no one should blame them after statistics showed that the 2011 summer-autumn high school graduation session was the country's worst in 20 years, as the EU demanded a higher degree of monitoring of testing. Graduation rates of only 40% in the capital Bucharest and countless cases of fraud during tests, to which teachers often turn a blind eye, depict a grim landscape in Romania's education system, which in the past produced extremely well-trained professionals.

Destructive cynicism

Such realities, mirrored by a lack of reaction and social care planning by successive governments, can be seen as "destructive cynicism," which will destroy the country's chances of sustained development, Ziarul Financiar noted back in August.

Meanwhile, EU Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn on September 23 warned Romania that "it's now or never" in terms of absorbing EU structural funding totalling some €2bn from the trading bloc, plus another up to €6bn from the country's own budget contribution. Romania has thus far taken less than 15% of that amount due to poor planning and projects that are closely monitored by the EU to prevent the funnelling of cuts to third parties as well as dodgy practices by the civil service.

Instead of using non-reimbursable funds from the EU to generate more wealth, the government has borrowed billions from the multilateral lenders like the International Monetary Fund, the EU and the World Bank to avoid default on payment of state salaries and pensions. And instead of working on EU-funded projects, more such borrowing is expected as the country prepares for legislative elections next year and has to produce some evidence to voters that it's giving them something. But that won't bring back those that have already left the country, nor will it consistently improve living standards and revive hope. "The economic crisis is transforming the emigration from Romania into a life horizon,'' the German foundation Friedrich Ebert said in a study released by its Bucharest office October 4. "Not only those that have relatives abroad are willing to leave, but people from almost any generation, with very different ethnic and professional backgrounds. Thus, emigration is triggered not only by the low level of income, but also by the lack of trust in the institutional system and decision makers."

Being a well-known foundation in Romania and hitting the nail in the head with such comments shows that things in Romania have gone way too far in terms of the politicians' lack of respect towards their own people. A lack of respect that first unfolded vertically, from the decision makers to the people, and is now unfolding horizontally, from the government clerk to the average taxpayer.

The bottom line is that Romania these days is losing even what's left among its valuable people and proven talents and it will need generations to restore such a deficit of skills. And, by the way, all of this is happening at a time the country needs the best of its resources in place.

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