European Commissioner responsible for Home Affairs
Why labour migration is an important issue for the EU
Seminar on 'Europe's labour migration policy: The Swedish solution' hosted by the Permanent Representation of Sweden to Belgium
Brussels, 7 March 2012
It is with great pleasure that I take part in the discussion we will have here today addressing one of the biggest challenges facing Europe, but first let me welcome the ones who travelled here to Brussels. Good to have you here!
I would like to start the discussion quoting from a novel:
"With his whole family – a wife and three children and a fourth not yet born – he would move away; not to another village or parish, not to another place in this country, or to any country on this continent. But to a new continent.
What must be brought along, what must be left behind? What was obtainable in the new land, and what was unobtainable? No one could advise, no one had travelled ahead to ascertain." (extracts from V. Moberg, 'Utvandrarna', pp. 95 and 153.)
This is the story of an emigrant family more than 150 years ago. And I choose this to illustrate that, even if a lot has changed since Kristina and Karl-Oskar, in the famous novel "the Emigrants", decided to emigrate to America, the courage and the guts they displayed in daring to leave their home country and all familiar things behind can still be seen today.
Today's situation is more complex than the situation back in Sweden in the 19th Century. Migration patterns have changed since then and are still changing as we speak.
The economic crisis has affected some Members States in Europe more than others, resulting in an increase of internal migration within the EU, with Greeks and Spaniards coming to Sweden and Denmark to try to find a different way of life. At the same time we also hear that many Portuguese workers are leaving the EU to go to Angola and Mozambique to find a job. I also read a few weeks ago about the migration of Swedes to China.
Challenge 1: The economic crisis
And as some people decide to leave Europe the ones who stay are faced with a complex situation where we have, on the one hand, economic recession and unemployment and, on the other hand, labour shortages and the need to attract workers to the EU.
Some Member States tend to disagree with the view that we need labour migration. They say that we can solve this problem with the right education or what is also called "up-skilling", pointing at the huge youth unemployment rate in some countries.
And yes, education and training are extremely important. But I also believe in a more flexible labour market in order to facilitate the entry of young people, immigrants and in some countries also women, who are faced with obstacles to entering the labour market.
But figures from the Commission tells us that even with up-skilling and education, in a few decades from now we will still be looking at significant labour shortages.
Let me just take one example: the health sector. In some years time we will need about one million professionals! To make it even more clear: we are talking about the people that will be taking care of us when we're in retirement homes....
Challenge 2: Changing demographics
If we take a detailed look at Europe today we see a population that is getting older and older. Overall this is a good thing. But the problem is that today there are about 4 persons of working age for every person over 65, but in 50 years time there will not even be 2 persons supporting each pensioner.
In 2060, yes, you might say, until then a lot can still change. True. But if we just look two years ahead of us, already in two years time we will have fewer births than deaths. So we are indeed looking at a major shift in demographics.
One solution could be to raise the retirement age. The Commission presented a report last month suggesting that this is only reasonable: as we are getting older we also need to increase the retirement age. This is a discussion ongoing in many member states at the moment but even if it is raised, this will not be sufficient alone.
Challenge 3: A Lack of expertise
Then we have the problem of a lack of existing expertise within the Union. I met with LKAB, the Swedish mining company, who are in dire need of 2 000 workers. Many of the experts they are looking for are not to be found within the EU.
This is a problem which neither an increased retirement age nor an up-skilling of the existing work force will be able to address. LKAB need experts and they need them now. LKAB has therefore initiated a partnership with a University in Turkey. A partnership I see as very welcome. I hope that this will in the long run lead to a close cooperation with Turkey.
Having said this, I believe that we can all agree on the challenges: on the need for economic growth, the problems with an ageing population and the lack of expertise. But can we also agree on a solution for a Union in economic decline?
I think that one of the solutions is today's topic, namely labour migration. And even if there is resistance from some Member States towards this solution –I am sure that we will be able to agree on this as the discussions continue.
The biggest Challenge: attracting people to the EU
The problem as I see it is rather that we have to move fast - because it is not only Europe that is facing a demographic decline. Both the US, Canada, Australia are in a similar situation. And in a few years time, even China will face a demographic decline.
So, the global competition for talent will increase. Globalisation has made it easier for migrants to choose where they go. We would therefore need attractive and competitive rules for admission into the EU. We also have to bear in mind that migrants are human beings with families and aspirations –and our rules of admission need to cater for this
At the European level, there is already a lot of legislation that still needs to be put in place. We have the Directive – which hopefully will be adopted soon - on Intra-Corporate Transferees, which will remove red tape for third country expert employees within the Union. And we have the Directive on Seasonal Workers which ensures proper working conditions for people coming to the EU for seasonal work. These are Directives that have been negotiated for a long time and that we now have to implement.
And while reflecting upon the need to move fast, legislation is perhaps not what is most needed at EU level today. Partnerships with third countries could prove to be even better.
One good example is Sweden. Sweden has for a long time been part of the Mobility Partnership with Moldova. By engaging in this partnership, Sweden is participating in building a well functioning employment service, making it easier for Moldovan people to go abroad to work and also to be able to return to Moldova.
We are now trying to establish Mobility Partnerships with our North African neighbours, starting with Tunisia and Morocco. Our involvement in these countries is crucial not only for democratic development in the countries but also as a way for us to increase mobility and attract new employees.
This is one of my political priorities: to make sure that we establish well functioning Partnerships with these countries as well as to negotiate Mobility Partnerships with more of our neighbouring countries.
To sum up, I have talked about the challenges facing Europe: economic recession, an ageing population and a lack of expertise. And I do believe that part of the solution to these challenges is labour migration.
The problem in the area of labour migration on a European level, from my point of view, is not only that there's a lack of new legislation in this area or that we haven't managed to convince Member States of the need for labour migration. Rather, the problem is how to compete on the global market in attracting labour migrants? How do we attract the Kristina's and Karl-Oscars of the 21st Century to Europe?