Unpaid internships in Europe could be abolished soon - or least reduced in number. Following a report by Danish Green MEP Emilie Turunen, the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs passed a resolution in which it
"calls on the Commission and the Council...to set up a European Quality Charter on Internships setting out minimum standards for internships...These minimum standards should include an outline of the job description or qualifications to be acquired, a time limit on internships, a minimum allowance based on standard-of-living costs in the place where the internship is performed that comply with national traditions" (p. 21, my emphasis).
Now the ball is in the Commission's camp. It has to come up with a European Quality Charter for internships and bring it through the Council. Admittedly, even a final proposal would not be binding upon the member states, so that it will still be possible for enterprises to offer unpaid internships. But once member states have publicly endorsed the principle of paid internships, it will be more difficult for them to backtrack.
For the moment, Turunen's initiative meets opposition from the Liberal Group and business representatives, according to the German Süddeutsche Zeitung. They claim that an internship is a learning experience and therefore should not be paid. They also argue that many businesses could not offer internships any more at all if they had to pay their interns.
But take all interns off from Brussels for a week and see what happens. Nobody taking the phone calls in the offices of the EP, nobody maintaining your company's social media profile, nobody drafting letters in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian any more - ask yourself if the value produced by those interns is really lower than the cost of "educating" them.
In addition, an enterprise that doesn't offer internships brings about its own fall. It cuts off its own future. For its own self-interest, it is bound to keep recruiting young people, otherwise it will cease to exist, or create an age gap and explode its transfer cost for knowledge.
In my view, therefore, a payment guarantee for internships is absolutely fair. Enterprises need to understand that they cannot request value without compensation. It is time to end the advent of the precarious society and offer young people a fair transition from education into the labor market.
The responsible directorate general is László Andor's DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. I suppose we should start lobbying so that the Commission does not take the minimum payment back out of the proposal. Here is Commissioner Andor's email address, his cabinet can be found here.