Croatia fears brain drain following EU membership

A high youth unemployment rate makes young Croatians want to leave the country. Experts fear a brain drain with detrimental consequences for the country’s economy.

By Lasse Skou Andersen & Niels Anton Heilskov

PULA, CROATIA. The sound of china against wooden tables mixes with buzzing chatter and laughs on the terrace of the cantina at the University of Pula, where the students enjoy a break from their lectures. As is the case with most Danes their age, the young Croatian students here are full of ambition, hope, and dreams for the future.

“After I graduate, I hope to get a good job in a large company and learn from the big boys so that maybe, one day, I can have my own company,” says Denis Taletovic, who is in the final year of his Business and Management studies.

But Denis and his co-students will soon have to face a tough reality check.

The Croatian economy has been in continuous recession or stagnation since 2009. According to statistics from The Institute of Economics, Zagreb,  the unemployment rate is now higher than 20 percent. The newest official statistics from Eurostat show that in the first quarter of 2013, unemployment among the 18-24-year-olds went up to a staggering 51 percent from 48% in the last quarter of 2012. That is more than double the EU average of 23.5 percent and second only to Greece and Spain.

A fact that is making an increasing amount of young people look outside of Croatia in search of a future.

No perspective

The trend is  obvious on social media platforms online – the biggest movement being the Facebook group “Young people, let’s leave Croatia”, which 60.000 people have chosen to join. They are tired of the situation on the job market in the south-east European country and feel that the current centre-left government hasn’t come up with adequate solutions to their problems.

In fact, the government’s attempt of finding young people a place on the labor market was the spark that set off the movement. An internship scheme in which newly graduated Croatians would be put to work for about 230€ a month – approximately a fourth of the country’s average salary – angered many among the youth.

“We are tired of the situation and don’t see any perspectives here. We love our country and would like to stay, but it simply isn’t possible if things don’t change,” says spokesperson for the ‘Young people, let’s leave Croatia’ movement, Iva Augustinovic

SOUND: Not everyone wants to leave – hear a couple of students explain why they prefer to stay

Highly educated first to leave

According to the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 almost 13.000 people emigrated, whereas only 8.500 people immigrated to the country . The number of emigrants has been rising continuously since the effect of the crisis hit in 2008. Experts fear that this tendency will become even stronger following the country’s accession into the EU in July this year.

“There already seems to be a clear tendency to leave Croatia, especially among young people. The EU membership makes it easier to work or study in other EU member states. It would have detrimental effects on the Croatian economy if these people never come back,” says Iva Tomic, an economics researcher at Zagreb University, who specializes in labor movement.

“With the exodus of young people today, in a few years we could be left without the pillars of the labor force, employees in the most productive age. If this group of people leaves the country, all their ideas and innovations that would encourage the development of new jobs – would be lost as well,” she says.

Number of yearly emigrants since 2008. Source: Croatian Bureau of Statistics
Number of yearly emigrants since 2008. Source: Croatian Bureau of Statistics

Vinko Kandzija, a Professor in Economics at the University of Rijeka and an expert on economical integration in the EU, agrees.

“The problem will not be the number of people emigrating, but the structure. Namely, the people leaving Croatia will mostly be experienced and educated young people, doctors, medical staff, engineers, etc. In other words, those that could lead Croatia out of the crisis,” says Vinko Kandzija.

See article “Croatian economy has potential for growth”

Government: Jobs are coming

Domogoj Milosevic from the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), the biggest opposition party, is well aware of the long-term implications of a high youth unemployment rate.

“I am very afraid of a brain drain. Personally, I have two young, talented friends that have left the country and are now successful businessmen elsewhere in the world. We can’t afford to lose those kinds of people. That is why it is sad that the government doesn’t appear to be taking this problem seriously,” says Domogoj Milosevic.

“We need to create the foundation for a closer relationship between universities and companies and make the transition between education and work more seamless – to the benefit of both the companies and the students,” he says.

The government, however, feels it is already doing what it can to create jobs for the Croatian youth.

“The main target of this government is the struggle against unemployment, and everything we do is focused in that direction. We feel an upturn is now around the corner. Our newest figures show that the industrial production is on the rise again, and that will hopefully result in more jobs being created soon,” says Chairman of the Financial and Central Budget Committee, Srdjan Gjurkovic, from the government coalition partner The Liberal Democrats (HNS).

SOUND: How to get a job in Croatia – a student’s guide

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