Introduction - Workers' mobility
The ability to move from one job, from one region or country to another is considered crucial for solving Europe's employment problem. Worker mobility requires not only readiness on the side of workers, but also adapted social security schemes, dedicated training and responsible employers.
Workers’ Mobility is a key element in the EU'sagenda for a more competitive European economy. There are only approximately 1.5% of EU citizens who currently live and work in a member state other than their country of origin, a figure which has not changed for 30 years, despite the increase in facilities for settling abroad.
The European Year for Workers’ Mobility aims to increase this figure and also encourages job mobility within countries, which is an ideal way to develop new skills and knowledge in an EU labour market characterised by high unemployment.
Legal restrictions on mobility
In an attempt to address the complex implications of the EU's 2004 enlargement, several member states from the EU-15 introduced 'transitional restrictions' on the movement of the labour force from the new member states. At the end of the first two-year transition period - on 1 May 2006 - the old member states remained split over easing access to their labour markets by Eastern Europeans.
The EU's strongest and wealthiest 'old' member states will continue to restrict access to their labour markets by workers from Eastern Europe. As the two-year transition period ended on 1 May 2006, only seven of the EU-15 states have decided to open their borders.
For more details, see EurActiv's LinksDossier on 'Free movement of labour in the EU-25'.
Mobility of researchers
Research is a major driving force for economic and social development. But researchers can only reach their full potential if they have access to the best possible training and career development opportunities at all stages of their professional life. Therefore, mobility and collaboration of researchers are essential for successful science. Better opportunities for mobility within EU borders could also throttle the 'brain drain' of EU scientists emigrating mainly to the US to do research there.
For these reasons, the EU itself has been promoting the mobility of scientists and students for a long time. It was defined as one of the main goals of the European Research Area (ERA), which, as part of the Lisbon Strategy, aims at improving Europe's research performance.
- The Sixth Research Framework Programme: 1.580 billion euro - about 9% of the overal FP6 budget - are put aside for human resources and mobility, as part of the actions to structure the ERA.
- This efforts will be strengthened under the upcoming Seventh Research Framework Programme with the so-called
Marie Curie Actions
, which aim at strengthening training, career prospects and mobility of European researchers. Special focus will be given to skills and career development, increasing mobility between university and industry, and strengthening links with national systems.
Education and Training
Not only scientists can benefit from training abroad, but also students, pupils and professionals. With 437,000 students who studied abroad in 2004, students are already the most geographically mobile part of the EU population.
In two communications, 'The new generation of education and training programmes' and 'Citizenship in action', as well as in its proposal for a programme for education and lifelong learning, the Commission set out guidelines for future education and training programmes for the period 2007-2013. The target is for at least 50,000 adults to benefit from education or training abroad each year by 2013. Additional specific actions are included in the following programmes:
- The Bologna Process aims to establish a European Area of Higher Education by 2010. A crucial element of achieving this goal is overcoming obstacles to the effective exercise of free movement in order to promote mobility. Students should get easier access to study and training opportunities outside their home country. Teachers, researchers and administrative staff should get recognition and valorisation of periods spent in a European context researching, teaching and training, without prejudicing their statutory rights.
- The Erasmus programme "seeks to enhance the quality and reinforce the European dimension of higher education by encouraging transnational cooperation between universities, boosting European mobility and improving the transparency and full academic recognition of studies and qualifications throughout the Union". Three million students should benefit from Erasmus by 2010, which would mean tripling the current number of 120,000 students taking part in the programme each year.
- The Leonardo programme promotes transnational projects based on co-operation between the various players in vocational training - training bodies, vocational schools, universities, businesses and chambers of commerce. At least 150,000 persons each year are to have access to the Leonardo programme by 2013.
- The 'Comenius action': At least ten per cent of school pupils in the Union and their teachers (as opposed to three per cent today) should take part in this programme on European co-operation on school education
Public opinion on mobility
Citizens tend to be more positive about long-distance labour mobility the more competitive their country's economy is, and the more mobile its workforce, according to a Eurobarometer survey on Europeans and mobility. The report found people in Denmark, Sweden and Ireland most positive about labour mobility, while the Greeks, Cypriots and Belgians were most negative about it. However skeptical people may be about labour mobility, they still consider "freedom to travel and work in the EU" the biggest benefit of the EU, far ahead of "peace" and "the Euro".
Support for mobility
2006 has been designated the European Year for Workers’ Mobility. With the objective of creating a European labour market, the Commission promotes discussions on the right to look for a job, the right of residence and the right to remain. It deals with frontier workers and the transitional provisions imposed on Central and Eastern European workers after the enlargement and a number of other issues, such as third country nationals and the transferability of supplementary pension schemes.
- On 11-12 December 2006, the European Year for Workers' Mobility was closed with a conference in Lille (see EurActiv, 13 December 2006) During the conference, the Commission handed over the prizes for the European Workers' Mobility Award.
- The first two-year period specified in the 2+3+2-year scheme for eight countries that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 expired on 30 April 2006. The member states have to declare themselves again on this issue in May 2009 (see EurActiv's LinksDossier on Free movement of labour in the EU-25).
- Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January. Following the accession, most EU-25 countries imposed transitional measures to exclude Romanian and Bulgarian workers for a two-year period, which can be extended to a maximum of seven years (see EurActiv's LinksDossier on Free movement of labour in the EU-25). Within those EU-25 countries which did not impose transitory measures, workers from the two Balkan countries are free to look for a job.