OPINION: Working in Spain – EU citizens still need to jump through hoops

The European Union supposedly gives all citizens equal access to live and work in any member state, but in reality the bureaucracy surrounding things like Spain’s NIE number gets foreigners tied up in knots, writes Sara Berg, a Swede living in Girona.

OPINION: Working in Spain - EU citizens still need to jump through hoops
The author, Sara Berg, is studying Catalan in Girona. Photo: mletschert/Depositphotos, Private

I’m an immigrant in another EU country and now it’s my turn to feel what it’s like to be on the inside, yet still outside. 

In Sweden, EU citizens often face bureaucratic obstacles when entering the labour market: employers claim (incorrectly) that you need a Swedish personal identification number before you can get a contract, while the tax agency retorts that you need a contract to qualify for an ID number. 

You find yourself in a catch-22 that effectively makes you unemployable. You’re inside, yet still outside. You have the right to be there, but no real possibility to live there. 

Now I’m here in Girona, a fantastic Catalonian town full of cafés and restaurants. I’m studying Catalan and my vocabulary is growing. And I was offered a job in a café! 

I feel ready to throw myself into the throng, making cappuccinos and pouring espressos long into the night. But the bureaucracy has put a stop to it. 

My would-be boss told me I needed a NIE number to get a contract. But I can’t get a NIE number without a job contract. It’s catch-22 for me too.

Whether or not a country is interested in taking care of EU citizens boils down to the economy. Countries make their own rules and laws that make it difficult for EU citizens from other countries to be included in society. 

This enables each nation to decide who can work and settle there, and who can’t; for whom the door is open and for whom it’s closed. 

I think it’s time for the EU to put pressure on member states to create real conditions for free movement – so we all can get housing, work, and can really live in another EU country. 

For now, your possibilities in Europe are seriously limited. It’s very probably you won’t be well received in another member state. No one will help you or care about you. To claim otherwise is false advertising. 

Sara Berg has taken a leave of absence from her job as a social worker in Gothenburg, Sweden, to study Catalan in Girona. 

A version of this article first appeared in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. Translation: The Local.


The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.