A continent forced to eye the precipice of poverty

In Europe, poverty is defined as having less than 60 percent of the average national income to live. In a continent made up of mostly wealthy nations, that definition still categorizes tens of millions of people as being poor. Among the most vulnerable are children, unemployed young adults and the working poor.

The EU has tried to counter this through a program called “Europe2020,” a robust offensive meant to bring 25 million Europeans out of poverty. But is it working?

As the European economy recovers from recession, 20 percent of all young people who want to work still can’t find a job. And often times, those who do find work, experience Europe’s increasingly precarious working conditions, with low wages and little security being the new normal.

Shot across the continent, from the point of view of those affected as well as those trying to impact systems to fight it, Poor Europe? investigates why poverty is still present in Europe, and searches for solutions to this pressing dilemma.




Mirella Pappalardo

What attracted you to the story of Poor Europe?

When producer Antje Boehmert asked me if I could work on a documentary in Europe with the aim of showing how and why people in Europe become poor, she knew I would agree. I’m a real European. I’ve been travelling a lot in Europe to shoot and tell stories of some unique places for my documentaries. I like Europe a lot. You can find different traditions, languages and great people in quiet close proximity. I wanted to know if and why people feel poor and if society and politicians are doing enough to understand how to help those people.

Why was it important to tell this story?

I was born in Sicily. In a small village up in the mountain called San Teodoro. When I was four years old, we moved to Germany. I grew up in Germany, but in two cultures at the same time. At home the traditional Sicilian life and at school the German one. Combining these similar, but very different cultures in one person has led to the values and mentalities within me.

As a teenager I got my first summer job in Germany and earned my own money. I was not lying on my parents' bag. Once a year we drove back home – to Sicily. And there I realized that it was difficult for my friends to understand my “German life.” Nobody had work there. Not even my friends’ parents.

My friends spent their summers with me while I was there and kept on constantly telling me of yawning boredom. Soon my friends were almost all married, had children and had never worked in their life. Meanwhile I had my first jobs in the film industry and could effort for my life.

I am different from my Sicilian friends because I had a great opportunity growing up in Germany. I have learned to be disciplined, take responsibility and be curious. Why has Europe forgotten villages like mine, where young adults have no occupation, no perspectives for their lives?

Should everybody leave their home town and try hard in a different country, far away from the loved ones?

No perspective is given to adolescents and teenagers. But who is responsible? The local politicians? I wanted to find out why European funding never reached those who really need support. I wanted to ask all these questions in my documentary.

What should we know about your filmmaking process?

For filming the documentary Poor Europe? I travelled to Sicily, to the country, where I was born. I love the country so much, I even have a tattoo on my left arm, which symbolizes the country. I had never filmed in Sicily. And suddenly, I found myself in a totally different position. Looking at my place as a journalist, meeting young unemployed people and listening to their stories. Not as a friend. As a professional. Sometimes I was struggling, because all the stories I filmed for Poor Europe? touched me. All politicians I met and interviewed. I had to ask all the questions regular people have in Sicily, Portugal and Ireland.

Travelling these countries was eye opening. Me working and living in Germany is great luck. And yet we have to look clearly and see how we can help the people who live under the bread line.

Did you make any unexpected discoveries while shooting?

I was very pleasantly surprised by the personal assessment of European Commissioner Marianne Thyssen. She knows intensively about the problems countries in Europe suffer from poverty. However, it also became quickly clear while we were interviewing her, that nothing will change unless the European countries change something themselves and do not wait for the EU to solve their problems.

What do you hope your documentary will achieve?

I deeply hope that Europe stays united and that nobody in any European country is left behind.
Every teenager deserves a real chance for a good education and a job. Every worker wants to keep his job, and every woman will do everything to have the children in a safe place while she earns money, especially if she is a single parent. I sincerely hope that the strong European community will once again work on these important issues and ensure that Europe is an association that everyone can rely on and where everyone gets the full support to live a peaceful and dignified life.


Click on any image for full screen slideshow.


In 2016, 118 million people in the EU (23.5 percent of the entire population) lived in households at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE).
Chart: Poverty in Europe

Learn more at EUROFOODBANK.


The AROPE rate, the share of the total population which is at risk of poverty or social exclusion, is the headline indicator to monitor the Europe2020 Strategy poverty target.



The Sustainable Development Goals are the UN’s blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.

Learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals.


The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) supports EU countries' actions to provide food and/or basic material assistance to the most deprived. This includes food, clothing and other essential items for personal use.

Social inclusion measures, such as guidance and support to help people out of poverty, and non-material assistance is also provided, as a means to better integrate the poor into society.

Learn more about FEAD, here.


The European Semester provides a framework for the coordination of economic policies across the European Union. It allows EU countries to discuss their economic and budget plans and monitor progress at specific times throughout the year.

Learn more about the European Semester, here.