Europe's Lost Generation?

The Brain Drain Problem, and How To Solve It

Departures sign at Manchester Airport Terminal 2, August 2012. Wikimedia

When the euro crisis ravaged Ireland's economy in 2009, Dublin promptly turned to its diaspora for help. Ireland's banking sector was close to collapse and its public finances were out of control, but Ireland's successful and patriotic expatriates were well positioned to assist. The then Prime Minister Brian Cowen gathered more than 100 leading members of the Irish diaspora in Dublin for the inaugural Global Irish Economic Forum. The goal of the conference was to use expatriates’ ideas and experience to develop measures aimed at promoting innovation, entrepreneurship, and the growth of key industries.

Seven years on, Ireland is again one of the most successful economies in the eurozone, with GDP growth at six percent, and the government has now set up Global Irish, a comprehensive campaign to engage its diaspora, which numbers around one million people, almost a sixth of Ireland's population. Its flagship event is the Global Irish Economic Forum, which gathered for the fourth time in Dublin last November. Ireland's Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said, “The Forum will provide an opportunity to look at how Ireland might develop over the next 100 years."

In no other European country has mass emigration been such an enduring and emotive phenomenon as in Ireland. But the Global Irish initiative offers useful lessons to a continent that systematically loses its intellectual and entrepreneurial stars.

For decades, Europe's leading innovators, visionary entrepreneurs, and renowned academics have crossed the Atlantic in search of more vibrant and rewarding professional environments, and the arrival of equally talented immigrants has rarely offset their departure. A transfusion of ideas from these gifted expats would reinvigorate Europe's stagnating economies and renew an inward-looking continent. Reengaging elite migrants in the political and economic life of their home countries should be a priority for European policymakers.


In terms of raw numbers, the elite brain drain is almost imperceptible. Every year, Washington grants about 15,000 O-1 visas to Europeans of extraordinary ability in the arts, science, or business, 6,000 of whom

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