Monday

14th Jun 2021

Internships: A mixed blessing for young Europeans

  • European Parliament president Schultz showing trainees around in Strasbourg (Photo: European Parliament)

An internship can be a great opportunity to enter the European job market, but it can also turn out to be an unpaid, menial work.

Tinkara Oblak from Slovenia has had both experiences in Brussels.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

She had one internship in the European Parliament, where she worked for Slovenian MEP Milan Zver.

“I learned a lot”, she told this website. Oblak did translation work, prepared outlines for the plenary session, and was given time to attend committee meetings she was interested in.

She was there for one month initially, but was asked to stay another five months.

A second internship, at the Slovenian permanent representation to the EU, was not so successful, Oblak said.

“It's a shame what they did with internships. They didn't pay me, they were sending me to technical working parties without informing me what they were about.”

“They wanted me to make coffee for them. When I confronted them, they said I was disrespectful. I resigned after one and a half months.”

The quality of internships varies widely across the EU, and within countries.

According to a 2013 survey of young EU nationals, almost half the respondents had had an internship, also known as a traineeship.

But 28 percent of former interns thought their experience wasn’t helpful in finding a job.

To improve the quality of internships, the European Youth Forum, of which Oblak is a board member, released An employers' guide to quality internships on Thursday (12 March).

The 20-page booklet contains tips like: “make an initial assessment of what the skills needs of the company are”; or make sure “an intern has clear, written learning goals that need to be achieved”, and “establish a monthly assessment for the intern to review progress and satisfaction”.

The guidelines may sound self-evident, but even in popular spots like the European Parliament, they aren't always adhered to.

Bryn Watkins has just finished an internship at the EP, and when this website asked him to check if the guidelines had been applied to his post, he said a number of the requirements had not been met.

“An intern has clear, written learning goals that need to be achieved? No. An intern has regular meetings with their supervisor to monitor progress? No”, he said.

On the whole, Watkins found it a good experience.

“I was given genuine responsibility. It's paid well enough, so that anyone can do it”, he said.

But being paid for an internship has become the exception, rather than the rule in Europe.

According to the 2013 poll, only 18.4 percent of Europe's interns said they were paid enough to cover basic living costs. Fifty nine percent said they received no compensation at all.

Here too, practices vary widely across member states.

In Belgium, only 19 percent of polled interns were paid at all. In Slovenia on the other hand, 81 percent were paid.

The European Commission has spoken out against the practice.

“Traineeships can't be a cheap substitute for regular jobs”, said Julie Fionda, a member of employment commissioner Marianne Thyssen's cabinet.

“They have to provide educational content.”

But the EU has little power in educational affairs. The commission can support programmes, but EU member states have full authority over education law.

A year ago, the EU member states agreed to a statement aimed at promoting quality traineeships in all countries, but it was a non-binding recommendation.

Some of the representatives of companies who went to the presentation said they believed they could change the landscape for interns without government interference.

Laurent Freixe, executive vice-president of food giant Nestle, said he opposed the idea of minimum compensation for interns as it might dissuade companies from hiring anybody.

“I'm afraid this could be counter-productive … I prefer leading by example to over-regulating”, he noted.

EU interns to rebel against unpaid work

Young people will gather in Brussels on Monday to protest against hundreds of unpaid traineeships offered by the EU institutions each year.

EU states must act on youth poverty

Campaigners say young Europeans need better quality jobs and contracts, after a UN agency documents how hundreds of thousands of young workers risk living in poverty.

News in Brief

  1. EU top court fast-tracks rule-of-law case to October
  2. Hungary's Fidesz wants to ban LGBTIQ content for under-18s
  3. MEPs join EU citizens on farm-animal cage ban
  4. Council of Europe urges Russia to release Navalny 'immediately'
  5. China's anti-sanctions law alarms EU businesses
  6. Airlines seek to water down EU passengers' rights
  7. EU leaders join call for further probe into Covid origins
  8. Liberal MEPs under fire over Babiš abstention

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU urges Poland to step back from 'legal primacy' clash
  2. Pressure builds on EU to back WTO vaccine-patent waiver
  3. EU anti-fraud agency cracked down on fake pandemic supplies
  4. MEP office expenses kept secret on dubious evidence
  5. What the EU public think of EU pesticide regulation
  6. MEPs set to take EU Commission to court on rule-of-law
  7. EU takes legal action against Germany on bonds ruling
  8. MEPs demand new EU biodiversity law by next year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us