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President of the European Commission
After the informal European Council last week, we can finally put the debate over institutions behind us and concentrate on the Union's main purpose: to shape and respond to globalisation - in the European interest and for the benefit of our citizens and societies.
Immigration is one facet of globalisation which demands a European rather than a national response to be effective.
Therefore, the Commission has adopted two major proposals today: the first is about the EU Blue Card, which aims to harmonise the admission procedures for highly qualified workers; the second provides for a general framework to be applied in all cases: a single application procedure for a single work and residence permit as well as a common set of rights for third-country nationals who reside and work legally in Europe.
Europe is an immigration continent — there is no doubt about it. We are attractive to many. But we are not good enough at attracting highly skilled people. Nor are we young or numerous enough to keep the wheels of our societies and economies turning on our own.
It is no secret that our demographics work against the Union; we will have a shortage of labour and skills in the future – this is already the case in some sectors. Our economies and the internal market are dependent on a skilled and mobile workforce. If we want to boost growth and jobs and address demographic change, we must act now. And it only makes sense to act together at European level.
What we hear from Member States is that the vast majority of them is interested in attracting highly skilled workers.
At the moment, most highly skilled workers go to the United States, Canada and Australia. Why?
Firstly, they face 27 different and sometimes conflicting admission procedures in the EU;
Secondly, national immigration policies lack a cross-border dimension: Once in a Member State, highly qualified workers have great difficulty in moving to other Member States for work purposes. This also hinders a more efficient use of this labour force for the benefit of growth and jobs in Europe;
Finally, there is a "rights-gap" between legal immigrants and EU citizens. This is incompatible with our value of equal treatment. It hampers integration and social cohesion.
Let me now briefly introduce our two proposals – before Vice President Frattini will go in more detail:
With the EU Blue Card we send a clear signal: Highly skilled people from all over the world are welcome in the European Union. Let me be clear: I am not announcing today that we are opening the doors to 20 million high-skilled workers! The Blue Card is not a "blank cheque". It is not a right to admission, but a demand-driven approach and a common European procedure.
The Blue Card will also mean increased mobility for high-skilled immigrants and their families inside the EU.
Member States will have broad flexibility to determine their labour market needs and decide on the number of high-skilled workers they would like to welcome.
With regard to developing countries we are very much aware of the need to avoid negative "brain drain" effects. Therefore, the proposal promotes ethical recruitment standards to limit – if not ban – active recruitment by Member States in developing countries in some sensitive sectors. It also contains measures to facilitate so-called "circular migration". Europe stands ready to cooperate with developing countries in this area.
The second proposal is of a general nature and concerns all legal immigrants. It ensures that legal immigrants are given rights comparable to those of EU citizens. Equal rights lead to better integration and social cohesion.
Furthermore the proposal creates a single application procedure for nationals from outside the EU to obtain a single residence and work permit.
What we are proposing today will reinforce EU action against unfair competition caused by illegal labour. At the same time, it will protect migrants from exploitation.
To conclude: We need a European approach to legal immigration if we want to be serious in becoming the most competitive, knowledge-based society in the world. We are confident that Member States will see the benefits of our proposals and that the EU Blue Card will soon be a reality.
And now over to Vice-President Frattini whom I want to thank for this excellent work.