Loosely based on the US 'Green Card' system, the scheme is designed to address Europe's looming demographic crisis and shortage of high-skilled workers (see EurActiv's 'Blue Card' LinksDossier).
German centre-right MEP Ewa Klamt (EPP), who drafted the report, hailed its approval by Parliament: "We want realistic and viable criteria which make it interesting for the applicant yet at the same time ensures that the EU doesn't fall behind its competitors such as the US, Canada and Australia."
Though the Parliament's vote was only consultative, it is a significant step towards the creation of a European Blue Card system. Immigration remains an enormously sensitive area in Europe, as the inflow of migrants to many countries continues to increase yearly, while certain EU member states remain openly hostile to ceding national sovereignty to a common European system.
The report was carried by a clear majority of 388 to 56, thanks to a pact between the Parliament's "big two", the Socialist PES and centre-right EPP parties. However, the large number of abstentions (124), led by the European Liberals and Greens, indicated that significant divisions persist.
Speaking to EurActiv, Dutch MEP Jeanine Hennis Plasschaert, Liberal spokesperson on immigration, said the EPP's report lacked focus and would lead to "all kinds of restrictions and bureaucracy, rather than opening the doors to high-skilled workers".
The European Commission proposal was already very modest, she argued, and was watered down further by the EPP-PES pact, which she claimed was overly influenced by the "very muddled and emotional immigration debate going on in Europe today".
Indeed, the Parliament's report tranformed the original Commission proposal in a number of ways, notably in modifying blue card eligibility requirements. For example, the Parliament stipulated that an eligible applicant must have found a job in the EU and have at least five years' experience in the sector concerned, whereas the Commission recommended three years. Also, MEPs called for the salary threshold for candidates to be considerably higher than originally foreseen - 1.7 times the national average wage in the applicant country, as opposed to the original 1.5.
The Greens, like the Liberals, described the proposal as "half-hearted," lamenting the report's "lukewarm welcome" afforded to high-skilled workers. They felt the text added a "host of restrictions on an already limited scheme".
It is expected that the Blue Card system will be voted upon in the European Council in early 2009.