"We need migrants to ensure our economic survival," Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said in Brussels, presenting proposals for a directive on seasonal employment.
The initiative reflects the Commission's ambition to re-engage with immigration policy following the adoption of its 2020 blueprint for economic growth (see EurActiv LinksDossier on 'Europe 2020').
The Commission now wants to crate a fast-track procedure which will make it easier for seasonal workers – mainly in agriculture and tourism – to obtain fair contracts for the services they provide.
It should also make it easier for seasonal workers to renew these agreements and will place a greater onus on employers to protect them from exploitation or abuse.
The new legislation would affect approximately 100,000 seasonal workers.
Meanwhile, a separate proposal to improve "intra-corporate" transfers within companies will affect a far smaller pool of workers (16 to 20,000 people), but is expected to have significant benefits for the EU economy, Malmström claimed.
Leading businesses have been complaining for many years that they face too much paperwork and unnecessary bureaucracy in transferring their high-skilled workers resident in other countries into the EU, the Swedish commissioner said.
This is a "highly relevant" category of workers, who are often experts in their field and have in many cases abandoned their attempts to work in Europe and instead left for the more accessible US as a result of these barriers, she explained.
The Commission hopes that this new smoother path will lead to a clear increase in investment, as capital follows the experts who boost the EU's capacity for production and innovation.
Give more immigrants full rights, OECD tells EU
The announcements emerged amid general acknowledgement from policymakers in Brussels that economic recovery will depend to a large extent on the EU's ability to attract labour migrants in the coming decade.
The facts were laid bare at the launch of the annual report on migration by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Monday (12 June).
Giving immigrants full working rights and speeding up their prospects for naturalisation can be a key step in kick-starting labour market productivity, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said, adding that "migration keeps growing in importance as an issue".
OECD experts noted that the financial crisis in the EU has led to a slow-down in immigration numbers, particularly in countries such as Ireland, Spain and the UK, where economic growth had been sky-high before the crisis.
Convince people that immigration is needed
Now, in the post-crisis economy, the necessity for migrant workers is just as great and all statistical evidence points to the fact that workers are more productive and more willing to upskill if they hold the nationality of the country they work in, they claimed.
The OECD hopes the report will encourage stagnating countries such as Greece to heed the lessons learned in countries such as Canada and Australia, where in some cases, migrant workers can gain the host nationality after three years.
However, EU member states need to do much better in explaining to their citizens the need for more immigrant workers, they added.
There is a "very bad political atmosphere" surrounding these questions in many countries, with "the loudest anti-immigrant" parties experiencing notable successes in elections, Gurría noted.
"We see an enormous need to communicate better," he concluded.