Administrations identified as main obstacles to mobility

Existing EU law intended to facilitate the mobility of labour and the free circulation of people in Europe is not being applied by local, regional, national and even EU authorities, citizens at a forum in Brussels found.

“I want to be able to live everywhere in Europe, not just in Ireland, the UK and a few other countries,” said Ondrej Manda in the panel entitled “Work mobility should start in your home country – finding a job (or even first, getting your diploma recognised)”. Mr. Manda came to Ireland from the Czech Republic before his country joined the EU on 1 May 2004. He has worked in various part-time jobs. All of those, he said, were unfit for his level of qualification as a sociologist and economist. 

Administrations on different levels, a number of panelists said, are even less prepared for breaking down barriers to the free movement of workers than businesses are. “Free movement of persons does not exist, Madame”, French national Iris Hillman was told in a Brussels commune when she tried to register herself and her American husband. 

When Vilma Bucaite wanted to come to Brussels from her native Lithuania to do a stage in the European Commission, Commission services told her to check with the Belgian embassy in Vilnius concerning immigration procedures. At the embassy, she was told that she needed a visa to come to Belgian – although Visas cannot be required for EU citizens travelling to another EU country. 

This kind of problem seems to be more severe for citizens of those countries which joined the EU in 2004. “The old member states do not recognize qualifications from the new ones,” criticised a Czech professor of management in the audience. “They discriminate against us on their labour markets, and then this dripples down to more general discrimination in society. We have a feeling of not being wanted.”

Still, it is not only workers from new member states who feel that they cannot profit to the full extent from the free movement of persons and labour in the EU. In some cases, mobile workers even feel discriminated in their own countries. 

Christophe Audicq, a French investment banker, found it quite easy to integrate in the London Labour market in the 1980s. When he came back to France ten years later, however, he found that neither the experience he had acquired in Britain nor his language skills were worth much in Paris. “My expertise gained in banking in the UK was not sought after in France,” he summed up his feelings after coming back.

In the panels entitled “Work mobility entitles you to social benefits on the foreign country – does it really? – obtaining social security benefits” and “Work mobility may go wrong – how to avoid the dangers”, citizens  criticised the lack of proper information. People who had migrated to another EU country said that in most cases this concerned the country of origin as well as the country of destination. 

The language barrier, lack of support from the local authorities abroad and lack of legal advice renders many unable to take care of their own business abroad. 

The Barka Foundation from Poland, active in helping Polish migrants in the UK, issued an appeal to Franco Frattini to launch a programme destined to help EU migrants in the European Union. This stood in line with testimonies of speakers, who agreed that the EU is doing much more to prepare an integrated migration policy towards third-country migrants, leaving alone migrants within the EU. 

Agata Szarek, a Polish citizen and businesswoman living in Ireland reminded that national governments bear primary responsibility for informing their own citizens, saying: “Please do not forget about us. We can still vote.” 

Summarising the debate, ECAS Director Tony Venables expressed an intention to form a pressure group for the mobility of workers within the EU, to solve the problem of “second class citizenship” in the EU. 

The Year 2006 has been designated the European Year for Workers’ Mobility. Workers' mobility is a key element in the EU's agenda for a more competitive European economy, but only around 1.5% of EU citizens currently live and work in a member state other than their country of origin. 

citizens' forum in Brussels organised by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) on 22 November 2006 brought EU actors together with ordinary citizens who had experienced mobility and told their story. 

On 11 - 12 December, in Lille (France), the closing conference for the European Year for Workers' Mobility will discuss the same issues that speakers brought up at the citizens' panel.

Subscribe to our newsletters