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European Commissioner responsible for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Free movement of workers – good for people, good for the economy
Press conference/Brussels, 26 April 2013
Ladies and gentlemen,
The European Commission has just proposed to make it easier for people to exercise their right to work in another Member State.
This right of every EU citizen to work freely in any country within the European Union, enshrined in the Treaty, constitutes an essential part of the EU's Single Market, and indeed of the European Union itself.
This right to free movement ensures that we, as citizens of a Member State, are not limited by our own national borders when it comes to looking for work and to experiencing a different life abroad.
I myself was able to study and work in the UK and have the freedom to work here, in Belgium, as well as in my home country.
Aside from the obvious benefits to the individual, labour mobility is good for the economy, in both the host and home countries. Studies show that migrant workers from other EU countries can boost the host country's GDP considerably.
As part of the solution to the currently unacceptable levels of unemployment, the Commission has been actively encouraging people to look for work in other Member States. In particular, people with a certain skillset can be matched with employers looking for people with those skills.
In this way, the skills mismatches apparent in Europe, where one region has high unemployment and another vacancies and labour shortages, can be addressed.
This is why Germany, for example, which has labour shortages in a number of sectors, is proactively trying to attract workers from Spain, Italy and other Member States with high unemployment rates, in particular youth unemployment.
As part of this, the Commission adopted a decision to reform the European job search network EURES in November 2012 in order to make it easier for jobseekers to contact employers looking for particular skills, to focus on sectors and occupations with skills shortages and to support targeted mobility schemes for young people.
The Commission also launched in December 2013 the EU Skills Panorama, a website presenting quantitative and qualitative information on short- and medium-term skills needs, skills supply and skills mismatches. The Panorama highlights the fastest growing occupations as well as the top 'bottleneck' occupations with high numbers of unfilled vacancies.
Working in another EU country should be as easy as working in your own Member State.
However, the unfortunate fact is that migrant workers all too often face discrimination and obstacles.
These obstacles include different recruitment conditions from those applied to host country nationals, different working conditions and different access to social advantages. And this discriminatory treatment has a significant adverse effect on EU mobility as a whole.
Today's proposal would therefore require Member States to take measures to ensure the real and effective application of existing rules on free movement of workers and to make it easier for workers arriving in their country to exercise their rights.
Today's proposal is about empowering individuals.
Under the proposal Member States would be required to help migrant workers, and their employers to know, and to defend, their rights about working in another Member State by giving them better information, better support and better redress procedures.
It's about further practical steps to create a genuine EU labour market.
Ensuring better matching between labour demand and supply means that job seekers can get jobs, and acquire skills and experience that they may be unable to find in their home country. It means that employers can fill vacancies, and produce goods and services, that they would otherwise be unable to.
Studies show that the main incentive for people moving to another Member State is to get a job.
The BBC surveys of Romanians and Bulgarians published just last Monday again confirmed that most people would only move to another Member State if they had a firm offer of work.
That said, there is a widespread perception in several Member States that there is a significant problem of migrants coming from other countries not to work but to claim benefits.
But so far, no Member State has provided the Commission with facts to back up this perception.
The fact is that existing EU law on social security coordination has strict safeguards to prevent widespread benefit tourism. In particular, to get benefits in another EU country, Member States can require that people must be working there, be a direct family member of someone working there or be 'habitually resident' there.
That said, if they want to, Member States can choose not to impose the requirements allowed under EU law, and can choose instead to give benefits to people that are not entitled to them under EU law, for example for humanitarian reasons.
Another concern expressed is that migrants take away jobs from host country workers. But the empirical evidence indicates that workers come from other countries in response to skill-related and other labour shortages in the host country, and so complement host country workers rather than replace them.
To sum up, free movement of workers within the EU's Single Market is a win-win situation, both for individuals and for the EU economy as a whole.
This new proposal would help migrant workers who experience difficulties exercising their rights to free movement. Both now, and in the future.
Today's proposal demonstrates the Commission's on-going commitment to ensuring that workers' right to free movement is applied in practice, and to standing firm against any flawed perceptions, or in the worst case xenophobic tendencies, aiming to undermine this fundamental freedom.