Germany fails to find credible IMF candidate

Despite being Europe's top economy, Germany looks set to show, yet again, that it has no viable candidate for a top job at an important global institution – including the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Germany fails to find credible IMF candidate
Photo: DPA

The tongue-in-cheek front page of German business daily Handelsblatt said it all. Headline: “The German candidate.” Picture: the French finance minister.

“Nations are also judged on their ability to occupy top international jobs. Germany, Europe’s biggest economy by far, has none of them right now,” the paper moaned.

Of all the names floated in the media to succeed Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn as managing director of the IMF, the global of lender of last resort, none is from Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is playing her cards close to her chest, but on Friday she said she had “high regard” for French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde.

For many, this was a hint that she would end up supporting the 55-year-old.

Germany also looks set to go empty-handed when it comes to who will succeed Jean-Claude Trichet – another Frenchman, and also touted as a possible next IMF chief – as head of the European Central Bank (ECB) later this year.

The ECB president is arguably the most influential job in Europe, as the bank sets interest rates for more than 330 million people the 17-nation eurozone, the core of the the world’s largest trading bloc.

In its decade of existence, the ECB has had two heads, neither of them German. This time Berlin’s candidate Axel Weber, the chief of the Bundesbank, was initially seen as a shoo-in to succeed Trichet when he steps down.

But in February, Weber threw in the towel for “personal reasons,” leaving Germany no time to line up an alternative and forcing Merkel this month to reluctantly throw her weight behind Italian Mario Draghi for the job.

This was all the more galling as Berlin had refrained from pushing Germans for other top European jobs in order, analysts said, to keep its powder dry for the ECB top job.

The EU president is a Belgian, the president of the European Commission is Portuguese and the EU foreign policy chief is British. Germany’s highest-ranking European official is Guenther Oettinger, energy commissioner.

It is true that from 2000-2004 the head of the IMF was a German, Horst Koehler, but that is some time ago, and was before the global financial crisis, when the bank was less important than it is now.

Armed now with more cash, it has become a key player in the eurozone debt crisis, providing billions of euros towards bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

“Since World War II Germany has been very prudent when it comes to occupying top political jobs,” sociologist Michael Hartmann, who specialises in studying the political elite, told news agency AFP.

But he added that Germany is content to pull strings behind the scenes in order to make sure things go its way, particularly as Europe seeks to respond to its debt crisis.

“For Germany, prestige is of secondary importance,” he said.

AFP/The Local/adn

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Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

Italy's tourist season is expected to be back in full swing this year - but will there be enough workers to meet the demand?

Why Italian resorts are struggling to fill jobs this summer

Italy’s tourist numbers are booming, sparking hopes that the industry could see a return to something not far off pre-pandemic levels by the summer.

There’s just one catch: there aren’t nearly enough workers signing up for seasonal jobs this year to supply all that demand.

READ ALSO: Will tourism in Italy return to pre-pandemic levels this year?

“There’s a 20 percent staff shortage, the situation is dramatic,” Fulvio Griffa, president of the Italian tourist operators federation Fiepet Confesercenti, told the Repubblica news daily.

Estimates for how many workers Italy is missing this season range from 70,000 (the figure given by the small and medium enterprise federation Conflavoro PMI) to 300-350,000 (the most recent estimate from Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia, who last month quoted 250,000).

Whatever the exact number is, everyone agrees: it’s a big problem.

READ ALSO: Dining outdoors and hiking: How visitors plan to holiday in Italy this summer

Italy isn’t the only European country facing this issue. France is also short an estimated 300,000 seasonal workers this year. Spain is down 50,000 waiters, and Austria is missing 15,000 hired hands across its food and tourism sectors.

Italy’s economy, however, is particularly dependent on tourism. If the job vacancies can’t be filled and resorts are unable to meet the demand anticipated this summer, the country stands to lose an estimated  €6.5 billion.

Italy's tourism businesses are missing an estimated 20 percent of workers.
Italy’s tourism businesses are missing an estimated 20 percent of workers. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“After two years of pandemic, it would be a sensational joke to miss out on a summer season that is expected to recover strongly due to the absence of workers,” said Vittorio Messina, president of the Assoturismo Confesercenti tourist association.

Different political factions disagree as to exactly what (and who) is to blame for the lack of interest from applicants.

READ ALSO: Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

Italy’s tourism minister Massimo Garavaglia, a member of the right wing League party, has singled out the reddito di cittadinanza, or ‘citizen’s income’ social security benefit introduced by the populist Five Star Movement in 2019 for making unemployment preferable to insecure, underpaid seasonal work.

Bernabò Bocca, the president of the hoteliers association Federalberghi, agrees with him – along with large numbers of small business owners.

“What’s going to make an unemployed person come to me for 1,300 euros a month if he can stay sprawled on the beach and live off the damned citizenship income?” complained an anonymous restauranteur interviewed by the Corriere della Sera news daily.

“Before Covid, I had a stack of resumes this high on my desk in April. Now I’m forced to check emails every ten minutes hoping someone will come forward. Nothing like this had ever happened to me.” 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

Italy is experiencing a dire shortage of workers this tourist season.
Italy is experiencing a dire shortage of workers this tourist season. Photo: Andrea Pattaro / AFP.

Five Star MPs, however, argue that the focus on the unemployment benefit is a distraction from the real issues of job insecurity and irregular contracts.

There appears to be some merit to that theory. A recent survey of 1,650 seasonal workers found that only 3 percent of the people who didn’t work in the 2021 tourist season opted out due to the reddito di cittadinza.

In fact the majority (75 percent) of respondents who ended up not working over the 2021 season said they had searched for jobs but couldn’t find any openings because the Covid situation had made it too uncertain for companies to hire in advance.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

Others said the most of jobs that were advertised were only for a 2-3 month duration, half the length of the season (again, due to Covid uncertainty), making it not worth their while to relocate.

Giancarlo Banchieri, a hotelier who is also president of the Confesercenti business federation, agrees that Covid has been the main factor in pushing workers away from the industry, highlighting “the sense of precariousness that this job has taken on in the last two years: many people have abandoned it for fear of the uncertainty of a sector that has experienced a terrible time.”

The instability brought about by two years of Covid restrictions has pushed many workers away from the tourism sector.
The instability brought about by two years of Covid restrictions has pushed many workers away from the tourism sector. Photo: Andrea Pattaro / AFP.

“I said goodbye to at least seven employees, and none of them are sitting at home on the citizen’s income,” Banchieri told Repubblica. “They have all reinvented themselves elsewhere; some are plumbers, others work in the municipality.”

READ ALSO: OPINION: Mass tourism is back in Italy – but the way we travel is changing

To counteract the problem, Garavaglia has proposed three measures: increasing the numbers of visas available for seasonal workers coming from abroad; allowing people to work in summer jobs while continuing to receive 50 percent of their citizen’s income; and reintroducing a voucher system that allows casual workers to receive the same kinds of welfare and social security benefits as those on more formal contracts.

Whether these will be enough to save Italy’s 2022 tourist season remains to be seen, but at this stage industry operators will take whatever fixes are offered.

“The sector is in such a dire situation that any common sense proposals much be welcomed,” the Federalberghi president Bocca told journalists.