Intra-EU Mobility, Employment and the Highly Skilled: Some “Food-for-Thought” on Ways Forward

According to the latest EU Employment and Social Situation – Spring 2016[1], there is a gradual increase in the employment rate, alongside a decline in the unemployment rate in the European Union (8.8 %, the lowest rate since 2009). As I read the review I wondered how highly skilled intra-EU mobile persons are benefiting from this labour market recovery?

As we approach the forthcoming Labour Mobility Package, in the midst of an on-going discussion on intra-EU mobility and anti-immigration rhetoric, perhaps it would be beneficial to take into consideration evidence from research as a “balancing-act” vis-à-vis the on-going discussion on free movement. For example, the 2015 EUROFOUND study on Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services” provides some interesting evidence as “food-for-thought” to the discussion. The main object set by the EUROFOUND study was to explore whether there was evidence for the hypothesis of “welfare tourism”, along with the identification of challenges in the path of intra-EU mobile citizens[2] in nine host countries in the European Union. Results from the EUROFOUND report not only match the initial objective of the study, but also offer a set of policy implications and recommendations at EU, national and local level. For instance, the need for more research, analysis and data in order to “counter ideological and uniformed assessments”, as well as achieve a more accurate estimation of intra-EU mobile citizens’ needs and remedy disadvantages.

Moreover, the EUROFOUND study also concurred with an overwhelming body of evidence pointing towards employment as the key factor for intra-EU movement, while statistics from 2013 indicate that 41% of mobile EU citizens are highly educated. Resonating with the central role of employment and mobility, the recent Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on “Fairer Labour Mobility within the EU” (exploratory opinion)[3] stated that: “Mobility is a key factor of employability and developing talent and can be a way to address the differences between Member States’ employment rates by offsetting labour shortages wherever they arise and making better use of workers’ skills. It provides greater job opportunities for workers and offers employers greater scope in their search for talent. Mobility can consequently be a major element in achieving the Europe 2020 objectives for employment and economic growth.”[4] However, due to the potential challenges faced by some professionals in seeking and securing employment commensurate to their skills, combined with the on-going problem of over-qualification[5], for the purpose of this post I shall focus my contribution to the discussion of intra-EU mobility upon issues related to highly skilled jobseekers and integration into the labour market. To begin with, I would like to state that, unlike some experts in the field of mobility, I don’t see brain drain as a problem in relation to intra-EU mobility. After all, in quantitative terms this movement is very small (compared to the entire EU workforce), while mobility is becoming more temporary/circular (including return of professionals to their country of origin providing the conditions are beneficial). Furthermore, as I yearn to see a thriving Single European Labour Market in place, where intra-EU mobiles would face no barriers of integration, while contributing to the EU community of their choice, I deem that “brain drain” is not the main challenge. Instead, there should be more concern expressed about the potential “brain waste” of these mobile professionals, especially the unemployed. As expressed in the “Commission Work Programme 2016 No time for Business as Usual” [6] on new boost for jobs, growth and investment History has shown that Europeans have an inherent capacity to work hard, innovate, to create and to sell their ideas to the world. We cannot afford to lose a generation of this talent and potential. The Commission will continue helping Member States in their efforts to get people back to work.”

Employment Services


Based on the results of the EUROFOUND report There is a need for greater employment support for EU mobile citizens, because of the disadvantages they face in the labour market and in integrating into society[7]. As such, since the main reason for intra-EU mobility is employment, an effective public employment service that meets the needs of employers and jobseekers is paramount to prevent possible loss of human capital, along with job creation. While acknowledging the work of EURES in support of intra-EU mobility, it is the local public employment services (PES), which will be working directly with the users (i.e., jobseekers and, in the best case scenario, potential employers) once they move for the purpose of seeking employment/or in the event of having lost their place of employment and needing to search for a new one. However, how much do we know about the success and possible obstacles experienced by intra-EU professionals, who avail themselves of the services of PES? How many are registered with the service and what is their profile? Based on the consulted reports from PES to PES Dialogue, I can only imagine how much knowledge and experience one could acquire on intra-EU mobility from an initiative under PES which could focus primarily on how highly skilled mobile intra-EU workers are doing in the labour market. Hence, an attempt to answer many questions, including:

  1. Are intra-EU mobile professionals aware of the fact that they can register with PES for support (i.e. job search, language training, etc.)?;
  2. What services are being provided and sought after by intra-EU mobiles of all ages and professional profiles, including gender differences?
  3. How are those programmes/services working for highly skilled intra-EU mobile jobseekers and potential employers in Europe regarding the matching process towards employment?
  4. What ought to be improved in order to facilitate and speed-up the matching process?

And so on. These and other questions crossed my mind as I read some of the excellent reports and recommendations derived from PES to PES Dialogue reports in relation to my interest on intra-EU mobility of highly skilled workers and their integration into the labour market. Moreover, as the European Commission works on the reform of the Blue Card Directive intended for highly skilled third country nationals, more knowledge on labour market integration and services offered to intra-EU mobiles may shed some light on some of the issues their peers may experience as they search for employment in the European Union.

When gathering information and considering those and other questions in relation to integration in the labour market, it is important to bear in mind that much of the literature and analysis on highly skilled migration/mobility has been produced from a macro-economic paradigm, which despite its value, especially to policymakers, researchers and the media (fond of numbers), it may lose the dimension of the individual workers’ experiences and those of employers, including gaining an awareness of perceptions related to workers and concerns on employability. As such, besides supporting quantitative studies, maybe it is important to support large qualitative and ethnographic based investigations, which can compile a great deal of information from the perspective of service users and providers, as well as rebuke some of our assumptions on provision of services and outcomes. As the labour market is in transition, so are our long held assumptions about highly skilled mobility leading to a constant “win-win” outcome, since extended periods of unemployment or underemployment can “erode human capital, making reintegration into the labour market much more difficult at a later stage. Therefore, having a job in another country can play a crucial role in protecting human capital and maintaining a foothold in the labour market.”[8] henceforward preventing brain waste”.

In general, in order to overcome the challenges of unemployment and demographic deficit of an ageing population[9], there is a need to intensify the implementation of appropriate practices that can contribute to mitigate the persisting challenges of integration into the labour market of diverse groups in a sustainable way, such as by scaling–up and individualizing services for jobseekers. In addition, by supporting special programmes that can facilitate entry, retention, and advancement into the labour market of professionals of all age groups. The evidence and recommendations elaborated by the European Commission on long-term unemployment could serve as examples of initiatives to be considered and adapted to intra-EU mobile professionals, such as individualized case work and matching services between jobseekers and potential employers.

A number of reports, including the 2015 EUROFOUND study, have recommended the creation of a separate fund dedicated to intra-EU mobility, which I agree with, while taking this opportunity to make additional suggestions. Since most intra-EU mobiles reside in urban areas (i.e., cities), local services and programmes ought to benefit from new funding aimed at deliverables (i.e., support with education, training, childcare, employment, etc.). Moreover, in relation to employment, institutions/organizations involved in service delivery should also receive additional resources to cope with the volume of jobseekers (to include funding for training and upgrading skills, new programmes, etc.), as well as internal capacity building in order to adapt their human resource/assistance towards an effective job support and matching services for highly skilled workers.

Free Movement


As for the unhelpful critics, despite being a work-in-progress, Free Movement is echoed and cherished by many in the EU as one the “the most highly-valued achievements of the European integration process”[10]. As such, it is important to emphasize that, notwithstanding a number of challenges, intra-EU mobility is the most advanced system of transnational human capital mobility in the world. This practice is worth preserving and strengthening as an example of international human capital mobility aimed at greater “transfer of knowledge, innovation and skills development, which is essential in a world undergoing technological change[11] and interconnection. As we live in a time of economic and labour market transition being felt around the world, it is important to take into consideration that it is not because something is a work-in-progress that we should discard or undermine it with restrictions; instead one should strive to preserve such an international advantage (i.e., mobility of workers), learn more from it (i.e., what is working, address challenges and scale-up examples of good practice), utilize what we already know (including making use of evidence based research and project/programme results), so as to adapt the structure and ways of working in support of “achieving the Europe 2020 objectives of employment and economic growth.”[12] As the idiom goes, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. Instead, as caretakers/social architects, we do all we can to enable our common project to grow vigorous with appropriate support and resources so it can thrive and contribute to society at large.

Moreover, since there seems to be an on-going concoction of issues related to mixed migration flows, perhaps the European Commission might consider establishing a European Intra-EU Mobility Network or Platform (like the European Migration Network) focusing primarily on intra-EU mobility, so as to among other things, strengthen the knowledge pool, address misconceptions and promote dialogue among key stakeholders focusing primarily on issues related to employment, social affairs and integration. As such, this new network/platform could include (not only) representatives from employment and social affairs at Member State level, but also representatives from cities, employers’ organizations, trade unions, civil society and experts. Such a network could contribute among other things to the identification of: emerging trends, lessons learned, example of practices and areas for further research, direction for programmes and projects in support of intra-EU mobility, etc. To date, a number of projects have received funding from the European Commission in support of intra-EU mobility and more is coming (e.g., Horizonte 2020, Intra-EU mobility and its impacts for social and economic systems, 2016), combined with initiatives at national and local level. However, as we live in an information-overloaded society, for those working on the subject, especially policymakers and practitioners, perhaps such a network would be of value towards a common understanding of the issues at hand and potential ways forward. For example, as a supporting mechanism in the trajectory to a constructive dialogue and evidence based policymaking and coverage, in service of the core elements within our common project of a thriving EUROPE for the benefit of all those involved: workers, citizens, migrants, employers and communities at large.


[1] EU Employment and Social Situation – Spring 2016 Quarterly Review.

[2] Intra-EU mobile citizens (from ten central and eastern European Member States) in nine host countries (i.e. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom), EUROFOUND, Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services”, 2015.

[3] SOC/531 (27/04/2016) – EESC-2016-00258-00-00-AC-TRA (EN)

[4] SOC/531 (27/04/2016), paragraph 3.4 (1/6)

[5] B. Galgoczi, and J. Leschke “Intra_EU Labour Migration After Eastern Enlargement and During the Crisis”, ETUI working paper N. 13/2012, European Trade Union Institute.

[6] EC COM(2015) 610 final, “Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee of the Regions, Commission Work Programme 2016, No Time for Business as usual”, page5.

[7] EUROFOUND, “Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services”, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2015, page 2.

[8] C. Dheret, A. Lazarowicz, F. Nicoli, Y. Pascouau, and F. Zuleeg, “Making Progress Towards the Completion of the Single European Labour Market”, EPC Issue Paper, No.75, 2013, page 37

[9] The EESC Priorities during the Dutch Presidency, Jan-June 2016.

[10] EESC, SOC/531(27/04/2016)

[11] EESC, SOC/531(27/04/2016)

[12] EESC, SOC/531(27/04/2016)