The Blue Card proposal is not expected to go down easily with some member states; most prominently Germany and Austria. Franz Müntefering, then German employment minister, attacked the proposal quite fiercely, insisting that employment ministers must be involved: "This is no matter to be casually decided by home affairs ministers - and also not by the commissioner in charge of home affairs. This is not a matter for the Commission at all. It must be the responsibility of national parliaments and governments."
When he presented the Blue Card proposal on 23 October 2007 in Strasbourg, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: "Labour migration into Europe boosts our competitiveness and therefore our economic growth. It also helps tackle demographic problems resulting from our ageing population. This is particularly the case for highly skilled labour." Barroso added: "With the EU Blue Card we send a clear signal: Highly skilled people from all over the world are welcome in the European Union."
He stressed, however: "Let me be clear: I am not announcing today that we are opening the doors to 20 million high-skilled workers. The Blue Card is not a 'blank cheque'. It is not a right to admission, but a demand-driven approach and a common European procedure." Barroso went on to stress that "member states will have broad flexibility to determine their labour market needs and decide on the number of high-skilled workers they would like to welcome".
Addressing possible adverse effects of high-skilled workers' country of origin, the Commission president said: "With regard to developing countries we are very much aware of the need to avoid negative "brain drain" effects. Therefore, the proposal promotes ethical recruitment standards to limit – if not ban – active recruitment by member states in developing countries in some sensitive sectors. It also contains measures to facilitate so-called "circular migration". Europe stands ready to cooperate with developing countries in this area."
Former Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said on the same occasion: "Europe's ability to attract highly skilled migrants is a measure of its international strength. We want Europe to become at least as attractive as favourite migration destinations such as Australia, Canada and the USA. We have to make highly skilled workers change their perception of Europe's labour market governed as they are by inconsistent admission procedures. Failing this, Europe will continue to receive low-skilled and medium-skilled migrants only. A new vision and new tools are indispensable for reversing this trend. We will also minimise the risk of brain drain from developing countries."
MEP Jean-Marie Cavada (ALDE, France), the chairman of Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee, said: "At a time when the EU is experiencing an ageing of its active population and a penury of skilled labour in certain key sectors [...] we shall examine carefully the provisions of these two directives, and notably the safeguards they provide to limit the brain drain from developing countries, for socio-economic rights and for the right of family members to join these skilled workers."
German MEP Manfred Weber, the rapporteur on the draft directive for the return of illegal immigrants, said on behalf of the centre-right EPP-ED Group: "Europe is not attractive enough for highly-qualified workers. The European Union needs these mostly young people - they contribute to innovation and thus help create jobs. However, the question is what criteria will be applied to select these highly-qualified immigrants. The proposed threshold of three times the minimum wage is too low."
Weber added: "The new rules must not put additional pressure on the millions of unemployed in the EU member states. In addition, only member states must have the competence to decide on the size of immigration flows."
Italian Socialist MEP Claudio Fava, who will be rapporteur on the directive on sanctions for employers of illegal immigrants, said: "The Socialist Group positively welcomes the European Commission proposal on the Blue Card for highly-skilled workers, but at the same time, it believes that the final text should be braver. In addition to the legal channels of immigration, there should be true and effective free movement of workers on all of the European territory. Limiting this mobility would signify a myopic approach, influenced by national interests and against the idea of an open, economically and competitively advanced Europe. It is also necessary to urgently open the channels of legal migration for non-skilled workers - an indispensable measure in the fight against the increase of work on the black market and the exploitation which immigrants suffer due to the lack of European norms."
UK MEP Jean Lambert, spokesperson for the Greens/EFA Group on immigration, said: "The proposed Blue Card [...] is supposed to make the EU more attractive as a destination in the global 'talent war' but the Commission risks undermining its own goal. It is a serious source of regret that the Commission is proposing restrictions on mobility within the EU to accompany the card. Mobility is one of the fundamental freedoms in the EU and restrictions for one group of EU residents smacks of double standards. The linking of the 'Blue Card' initiative with the presentation of a general directive on minimum rights for migrant workers is certainly welcome and reflects the need for a comprehensive approach to migration policy. The debate on migration at EU-level has been far too preoccupied with irrational crackdowns on illegal immigration but the reality is that the possibility of legal immigration is crucial to a coherent approach to the issue."
UK MEP Philip Bradbourn, Conservative spokesman on justice and home affairs, described the Blue Card proposal "is the wrong answer to the wrong question". "What we should be addressing is the wave of illegal migration into the EU before we tackle skills shortages," he said.
Bradbourn added: "The proposal as it stands will open a Pandora's box to those who seek to migrate to the EU without any of the controls necessary to ensure that those who employ illegal migrants are tackled and those illegal migrants who are caught are sent back to their country of origin. The proposal will encourage more people to undertake hazardous journeys from all corners of the world in the hope that they will get a work permit which once issued will give them free range to move across the whole of Europe."
John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), said: "Immigration cannot be an easy solution for dealing with labour market shortages and demographic change. The social partners must be involved in assessing real labour market needs and investment in training of unemployed workers – including those from a migrant or minority ethnic background – is a first priority. We will also have to make jobs in sectors where there are shortages more attractive to the locally unemployed in terms of wages and working conditions."
Hans-Werner Müller, secretary-general of SME organisation UEAPME, said: "The European Commission rightly decided to tackle the issue of legal migration by focusing on certain categories of employees. A sector-by-sector approach, which UEAPME favours and requested several times, is crucial to ensure that Europe can benefit more from legal migration in the coming years."
However, Müller stressed the need to tackle the high unemployment rates in most EU countries at the same time and with the same energy: "Improving the integration in the labour market of the unemployed, which are an untapped source of talent, should remain high on the list of priorities."
Sergio Carrera of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) stressed "the major differences between Member States as regards minimum salaries" in the face of which harmonisation would be "particularly difficult". He also doubted whether the Blue Card could guarantee equal treatment across all Member States, since each state would be able to introduce measures that were more favourable than those in the directive. "The proposed directive could lead to the application of different rights and its sectoral approach could give rise to discrimination", he believed.
Sverker Rudeberg of Business Europe argued that "this proposal must not prevent Member States from having more favourable rules" and that they must remain free "to determine the number of admissions" in the light of their needs. "A swift and transparent procedure that allows family unification" is imperative if the attractiveness of the European labour markets is to be secured. Mr Rudeberg opposed setting a minimum wage level "that was far too high and would exclude some people from jobs without any reason".
ETUC's Catelene Passchier said the confederation "would have preferred a horizontal directive" rather than a sectoral approach. She thought it was "difficult to explain that we are resorting to immigration when some countries have problems of unemployment. […] People are concerned that high-level positions will be occupied by migrant workers who are paid less than Community citizens. Equal treatment is very important, to prevent unfair competition", she concluded.
"I am very glad that [...] we have been able to put in place two important pieces of our common immigration policy," said European Commission Vice-President Jacques Barrot, responsible for justice, freedom and security, adding that "highly-skilled migration into Europe increases our competitiveness and economic growth, and helps to tackle the demographic problems resulting from our ageing population". "With [the] adoption of the EU Blue Card, we send a clear signal that, irrespective of economic ups and downs, such migrants are always welcome in the EU."
"At the same time we need to do more against illegal immigration from third-countries and tackle the ease of finding illegal work in EU member states, which is a main driving force for illegal immigration," he said. "The employment of illegally-staying migrants is not a trivial matter. Such migrants run a high risk of ending up in the harsh reality of exploitation and even sometimes slavery-like conditions. Illegal employment also distorts competition and the functioning of the internal market."