While many countries around the world are opening their borders and are introducing more flexible and liberal migration policies, the EU is not following the trend. This has led to the paradoxical problem of labour shortages in crucial sectors at a time of very high youth unemployment, experts say.
If Europe wants to remain one of the best and most competitive economies in the world, it needs to change its labour migration policies.
Faced with long and complicated procedures to hire employees in the EU, many global companies have decided not to establish themselves in Europe and re-direct their development strategy towards emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China.
At the moment youth unemployment in countries such as Greece and Spain has exceeded 50% while at the same time, the IT sector in Europe has a projected deficit of 700,000 skilled workers by 2015.
"How is it possible?" Dutch MEP Jan Mulder from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) asked at a Parliament-held event on Wednesday (5 June).
"Apparently, the market that we have at the moment does not work adequately and we have to reflect on this situation. In the Parliament, we have a number of proposals from the Commission which we are discussing at the moment. I can only say that in all the negotiations with the Council that the end is probably in sight, but the progress has been tedious," Mulder said.
Pointing to the problems
Ameet Nivsarkar, vice president of Nasscom, India's national association of software and services companies, said that an applicant from a third country has to go back to his or her home country for a work permit each time the individual changes country in the EU.
"This is the reality. This is extremely difficult and who is paying the cost for all of this? The final cost is for the European customers and the European economy. It's a real-life problem.
"Countries have individual programmes for, for example, visa issues and work permits which are not difficult. One problem is that there isn't mutual recognition and the second problem is that there is no harmony or consistency."
Carl-Johan Hamilton, founder of Ants IT-support in Sweden, a consultancy which helps companies recruit workers, mentioned the different EU languages as a big obstacle for labour migration – even in his home country which is known for a liberal migration policy.
"Swedish is important in Sweden. There are people who can only speak English who work in Sweden, but it is surprisingly difficult for even various international companies. This is definitely a barrier," Hamilton stated.
Changing member state attitudes
Stefano Manservisi, director-general of of Home Affairs at the Commission, underlined that at the moment member states and national authorities are not willing to discuss how to ensure that companies can hire more migrants.
At the same time, what is happening with quotas or equivalent techniques decided at national level is not progressively discussed at EU level, he emphasised.
Migration remains a question which is controversial and therefore it's not that easy to put the issue on the agenda, the director-general said.
He added that the solution could be to make an evidence-based case working with the industry and social partners which together can demonstrate with facts and figures what is the situation now with unfilled gap and unemployment and jobs.
"If we want to still have an open economy, which is the best way to keep our internal market, I think we should remain open and even more attractive for the big talents which are developing elsewhere in the world," Manservisi said.
Sergio Carrera, senior research fellow and head of Justice and Home Affairs at the think tank CEPS, commented:
"Across the member states there is a rigid framework in addition to EU laws. Besides the EU blue card, there are also national schemes which make things even more complicated. I think the EU Commission in order to ensure the value of its directives and EU blue card needs to be very meticulous in assessing the extent in which governments are implementing this in practice."
Swedish MEP Cecilia Wikström from ALDE and Parliament rapporteur on the new directive to improve EU attractiveness and accessibility for foreign researchers and talents, said:
"Migration is not only, as many EU countries think, a matter of security but it is also an instrument to boost economic growth and competitiveness and a contribution to make social systems more sustainable, especially for those countries confronted with an ageing population.
"It is incredible that out of fear or political prejudice, many Member States are depriving their companies of the skilled labour they need. It is even more incredible that they don't conceive a system to encourage third country residents who studied or were trained in their territory to access their labour market. The battle for talents has its consequences".
The European labour market is confronted with a paradox: while confronted with a record unemployment in its member states, millions of jobs remain unfilled in many sectors key economic development.
Despite all efforts to bring down unemployment and match skills in the domestic labour force, Europe-based international companies and SMEs face huge problems to hire the people they need.
- 2016: The two current directives on how to make the EU more attractive for students and researchers will be modified and replaced by a single new directive.
- EU immigration portal: Website