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Brussels, 21 December 2005

Policy Plan on Legal Migration

Economic migration in the EU: the labour markets’ situation and demographic trends

In its Green Paper on “an EU approach to managing economic migration” (COM(2004)811 final) the Commission stressed that, as a result of demographic changes in the EU, an overall decline of employment could be expected after 2010. At current immigration flows, the fall in the number of employed people between 2010 and 2030 will be in the order of 20 million workers for EU-25. Labour and skills shortages are already noticeable in a number of sectors and they will tend to increase. Eurostat long-term demographic projections[1] indicate that in the EU “population growth until 2025 will be mainly due to net migration, since total deaths will outnumber total births from 2010. The effect of net migration will no longer outweigh the natural decrease after 2025”. The decline in the total population is expected by 2025 and in the working age population by 2011. These are forecasts and average figures, to be considered with caution. Some Member States (Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia) are already experiencing a decline in the working age population, while in others it will happen later (i.e. Ireland from 2035). The ageing challenge – and its consequences on the national labour markets – will therefore not affect all Member States at the same time and in the same proportions, but it is nevertheless a common trend. As to the present situation, on 1 January 2004 migrants represented around 3.5% of the total population in the EU-25. In 2004 the total population increased by 2.3 million, mainly due to net migration of 1.85 million[2], i.e. net migration represented more than 80% of the total increase.

Solutions to compensate for the negative impact of demographic ageing on the labour market are to be found in the context of the Lisbon strategy. Immigration is one of them but not in itself “the” solution. When addressing this problem, the EU must first make use of its existing human resources (EU nationals and third-country nationals already resident on the EU territory) through the achievement of the Lisbon objectives. This line of thought was also confirmed by the “Hague Programme”, adopted by the European Council of 4/5 November 2004, which states that “legal migration will play an important role in enhancing the knowledge-based economy in Europe, in advancing economic development, and thus contributing to the implementation of the Lisbon strategy.” Furthermore, the Commission, in its recent communication on “Priority actions for responding to the challenges of migration: First follow-up to Hampton Court[3]” highlighted that “While immigration should be recognised as a source of cultural and social enrichment, in particular by contributing to entrepreneurship, diversity and innovation, its economic impact on employment and growth is also significant as it increases labour supply and helps cope with bottlenecks.

Policy and legal context

The Hague Programme of 4-5 November 2004, laying down the EU work programme for 2004-2009 in the field of Justice, Freedom and Security, asked the Commission to take into account the results of the public consultation on the Green Paper on economic migration – together with the best practices in the Member States and their relevance for the implementation of the Lisbon Strategy – as a basis for “a policy plan on legal migration, including admission procedures capable of responding promptly to fluctuating demands for migrant labour in the labour market” to be adopted before the end of 2005. In order to fulfil this political mandate, on 11 January 2005 the Commission relaunched the discussion on possible future EU rules on labour migration by adopting a Green Paper on an EU approach to managing economic migration. The response to the public consultation was really high: around 130 written contributions have been received from Member States, social partners, third countries and the civil society[4]. The European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions also adopted their respective opinions. A public hearing took place on 14 June 2005, closing the official phase of the public consultation. The analysis of the contributions – which represented the starting point for the elaboration of the Policy Plan on Legal Migration – showed a general support for a common EU policy for economic immigration, albeit with important differences in approach and as to the final result awaited.

The contents of the Policy Plan on Legal Migration

With this Policy Plan, primarily focused on economic immigration, the Commission fulfils the mandate given by The Hague Programme, in line with the objectives of the Lisbon programme adopted in July 2005.

The document does not contain any legislative or operational proposal. Building on the existing framework in both the Justice, Freedom and Security and the Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities areas, the Plan defines a road-map for the remaining period of The Hague Programme (2006-2009) and lists the actions and legislative initiatives that the Commission intends to take, so as to pursue the consistent development of the EU legal migration policy. It is divided in four sections of equal importance, addressing the main dimensions of the legal immigration phenomenon in a comprehensive way:

  • The Commission will progressively present a set of legislative proposals concerning the conditions of entry and residence for third-country nationals in employment. These proposals will consist of a general framework directive defining the basic rights of all immigrant workers admitted in the EU (together with other horizontal measures) and of four specific directives, addressing the conditions of entry and residence of certain categories of immigrants (highly skilled and seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees and remunerated trainees). It is worth emphasising that the general framework directive will not deal with procedures and conditions of admission for third-country nationals in employment. Moreover Member States competence to determine the volumes of persons to be admitted remains unaffected.
  • The Commission will develop a number of non-legislative tools to substantially improve the access to, exchange and coordination of available information in the field of immigration. These measures will include the setting up of an EU Immigration Portal, the revision and development of the European Job Mobility Portal (EURES) and of the European Migration Network, according to the results of the public consultation just launched[5], etc.
  • As to integration of economic immigrants and their dependents, the Commission will actively follow up the measures proposed in the recent Communication on a Common Agenda for Integration[6], laying particular stress on the creation of information packages and language and civic orientation courses for newly arrived economic immigrants.
  • Given the need of enhancing cooperation with the countries of origin of immigrants in order to effectively manage immigration flows at the benefit of all interested parties, the Commission is proposing several measures which need the cooperation of these countries to be enacted. Amongst these, monitoring and other possible actions in order to limit the worse effects of brain drain; instruments to encourage return and circular migration; professional training and linguistic courses through the establishment of training structures in the Countries of origin under the responsibility of local authorities or NGOs, etc.

With this comprehensive package of measures, the Commission stresses once again the need for a coherent, overall and balanced approach on migration issues, and the fact that setting up a clear and consolidated EU immigration policy adds to the credibility of the EU on the international stage and in its relations with third countries. In this respect, it is worth noting that in April 2006 the Commission will present a Communication on future priorities in the field of illegal immigration.

[1] STAT/05/48

[2] STAT/05/136

[3] COM(2005)621 final of 30 November 2005.


[5] Green Paper on the future of the EMN, COM(2005)606.

[6] COM(2005)389

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