By FRANK JORDANS and ALAN CLENDENNING
MADRID (AP) â¿¿ Maria Menendez, a 25-year-old caught in Spain's job-destroying economic crisis, would love to work in Germany as a veterinarian. Germany, facing an acute shortage of skilled workers, would love to have her.
A perfect match, it seems, but something's holding her back: She doesn't speak German.
The European Union was built on a grand vision of free labor markets in which talent could be matched with demand in a seamless and efficient manner, much in the way workers in the U.S. hop across states in search of opportunity. But today only 3 percent of working age EU citizens live in a different EU country, research shows. As young people in crisis-hit southern Europe face unemployment rates hovering at 50 percent, many find themselves caught in a language trap, unable to communicate in the powerhouse economy that needs their skills the most: Germany.
"I think going abroad is my best option," said Menendez, "but for people like me who have never studied German, it would be like starting from zero."
Editors: This is the latest installment in Class of 2012, an exploration of Europe's financial crisis through the eyes of young people emerging from the cocoon of student life into the worst downturn the continent has seen since the end of World War II. Follow the class on its new Google plus page: http://apne.ws/ClassOf2012
In northern Europe, companies are desperately seeking to plug labor gaps caused by low birth rates and the growing need for specialized skills amid still robust economies. Germany alone requires tens of thousands of engineers, IT-specialists, nurses and doctors to keep its economy thriving in the years to come.
But a recent study pinpointed language as the single biggest barrier to cross-border mobility in Europe.
"What seems to prevent further labor market integration in Europe is the fact that we speak different languages," said Nicola Fuchs-Schuendeln, a Frankfurt University economics professor who co-authored the study.