Tag Archives: eu

Croatia’s Employment Emergency: Ratio of Applicants to Entry-Level Jobs ‘Reaches 72:1 in EU’s Newest Member’!

 

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As Easy As 1,2,3: Three Steps Towards Achieving the European Union’s M+2 Language Acquisition Objective!

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 14.55.19A recent article in the increasingly indispensable International New York Times served as a reminder that as well as being the world’s most valuable trading bloc, the European Union is also in many senses a cultural project. Back in 2002, executive leaders of the EU’s member states posited a linguistic objective: for at least two foreign languages to be taught to the children of the European Union ‘from a very early age’. This target has become known as ‘M+2’, with the ‘M’ standing for mother tongue. With the gradual expansion of the bloc over time, this goal has assumed especial importance: the EU is presently constituted of 28 countries of no less than 24 official languages; moreover, the current youth unemployment situation in some EU member states makes the capacity to work in another language particularly compelling.

However, despite many years having passed since the promulgation of M+2, the data on the ground suggests that this objective is far from being reached. A 2011 survey of 14 European countries showed that only 42% of 15-year-olds could hold a conversation in a language that was not their native one. From 2007 to 2013, the European Commission has spent about €50m per annum on language learning projects, but this is a drop in the ocean in comparison to some of the EU’s other financial commitments; the commissioner responsible for multilingualism, Androulla Vassiliou, has arguably not done as much to advance the multilingualism agenda as she could have done.

So what should the European Union do to help meet the M+2 goal? After some contemplation, we believe that the following three steps should help in raising linguistic standards amongst students across the bloc:

  1. Invest in Better Textbooks. Language textbooks – with a few notable exceptions – are some of the worst educational tools around. More often than not, they are dry as well as being uncomprehensive: inadequate presentation and poor technical specifications abound. Conversely, the textbook industry in Japan is extraordinarily dynamic and speaks to children in a language they love: manga. There has already been some cross-pollination in other subjects, with English- and German-language manga guides on domains of knowledge such as statistics and physics proving wildly popular amongst certain subcultures, but very few educators and publishers have realised just how effective and popular this type of learning can be.
  2. Stress Fun – Not Stress. Learning another language can be extraordinarily stressful, as the some of the most essential elements of one’s universe – familiar words and grammar structures – are no longer available to lean on. Yet most learning materials in this sector compound this feeling. They do not introduce language through fun and interesting topics which are likely to be useful in the students’ own lives; instead, they punish students with a whole new layer of obstructive jargon which is virtually guaranteed to drain any joy out of the experience.
  3. Encourage Quality Time. With electronic technology having attained ‘all-pervasive’ status over the last generation or so, quality time between students and their parents has become dominated by devices – conversation is at a premium, and entire weeks can pass without a single complex intergenerational interaction. Doing everything possible to highlight the monumental irrationality of this trend should make students more confident with language more generally; many students now struggle even with their native language.

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2014: European Year of Domestic Violence?! EU Report Reveals Stratospheric Levels of Violence Against Women!

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We Like to Move It, Move It: Erasmus 2.0 Gets off the Ground!

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Join the Club: Croatia Stumbles into ‘Europe’!

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Memories of Spain, 2002: When We Suspected Something Was Up

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Unlike the Mediolana CSO Asad Yawar, most commentators – economic or otherwise – did not see the ongoing global financial crisis coming, and are as surprised as anyone to see affluent European countries such as Spain slide into what we have termed (and will soon flesh out in more detail) as a New Second World. But Mediolana’s CSO has long seen ominous signs in the Spanish economy since his first visit to the country in 2002.

Travelling to the Andalusian tourist triangle (Sevilla-Granada-Córdoba) during a blistering summer, our CSO noticed one or two things aside from the remarkably long queues at the entrance to the Alhambra Palace:

1. 1492-1992. Andalusia – one of the most dynamic places in the world during the Middle Ages – is a fixture towards the foot of modern Spain’s economic league table. Still, Yawar did not expect to find cities where between the expulsion of the Moors and the commencement of serious EU sweeteners, nothing much of note seemed to have happened. Particularly striking were the bus stations, ramshackle products of the pre-EU second and third quarters of the twentieth century which reminded our CSO of nothing so much as why Yugoslavs traditionally regarded their economy as superior.

2. Deep Structures. 2002 was a time when any half-sentient Briton could walk into a bank, lie about their income and have half a million pounds deposited in their account faster than the responsible teller could say ‘commission’. Rules about this sort of thing were tighter in Spain, but still: the good times rolled. Income was disposable and cash was flashed, yet a few enquiries in and around Granada revealed a real unemployment rate of around 40% in Andalusia – similar, ironically to that existing in much of the former Yugoslavia, except without the alibi of a recent war (and lavish EU members-only funds).

3. Euro-pa League? An impecunious Yawar (as well as his better-heeled travel partner) found the cost of the holiday eye-wateringly high, as everything from restaurant bills to accommodation tariffs – freshly priced in euros, with the peseta having been dumped at the end of 2001 – seemingly having at least one zero too many. When tourists are reduced to slumming it in Albaicín, one can be sure that the locals going to find the majority of stuff a tad price elastic – with both production and consumption cycles prone to the odd death spiral.

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Apartment Life: Why Europe Should Follow Singapore’s Living-Space Lead

Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 00.05.30Singaporean politicians are best known internationally for being forced to take legislator-specific exams or constructing a state that according to some resembles ‘Disneyland with the death penalty’, but the dominant reality remains that the dynamic Asian city-state of 5.3m people continues to punch far above its weight across countless sectors. And with new guidelines promulgated by the republic’s Urban Redevelopment Authority (‘URA’) prohibiting the construction of new ‘shoebox’ apartments in suburban areas, Singapore is demonstrating admirable insight in an area that it has not traditionally been feted for.

The guidelines – which came into force on 4th November 2012 – stipulate that new suburban apartment developments must have a minimum gross average per unit floor space of no less than 70 square metres. This is in itself bold enough, but what we at Mediolana found particularly interesting were the justifications given for such a rule: the Singaporean government, keen to boost the nation’s low birth-rate, seems acutely aware that small apartments are anathema to family life and can lead to excessive stresses on a city’s infrastructure – colonies of lone, stressed and uniform commuters clog up bus stops and metro lines far more than neighbourhoods with a more varied population mix.

Low birth-rates are also a huge concern in the European Union, with immigration to an economically stagnant bloc increasingly unlikely to be able to fund the EU’s liabilities gap; with the internationally-minded members of the global labour force instead heading for economies in (somewhat ironically) ASEAN, Mercosur and the OIC, the EU will probably need to generate its own taxpayers. That means prioritising family life – and some Singapore-style housing regulation would surely help contribute towards this end. In the 1990s and 2000s, affordable living spaces in many large cities in the EU – London and Barcelona spring to mind – became preposterously small, and minimum floor space laws are either not on the statute books (as in the UK) or ultimately ineffective.  For the sake not just of conviviality, mental health and creativity, but the very future of Europe itself, the EU should analyse this particular Singaporean law – and implement its own version prontissimo.

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