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According to the 2016 Annual Report on Intra-EU Labour Mobility[1], in 2015 “a total of 8.5 million EU-28 movers were employed or looking for work, making up 3.6% of the total active population across” the European Union. Germany, United Kingdom, and Spain comprise the top three countries of residence, while “Germans, Italians, Polish, Portuguese and Romanians together make up more than half of all movers”[2]. The 2016 Annual Report contain a number of interesting features on intra-EU mobility, ranging from the economic integration of intra-EU workers to the experience of returnees and retirees. However, one of the issues which caught my attention was the findings on highly skilled workers, a category which continues to increase among intra-EU mobiles in recent years. According to the 2016 Annual Report:

“In general, the employment situation of EU-13 movers is still less favourable than that of EU-15 movers as indicated by a higher unemployment rate and by higher shares of persons carrying out low-skilled jobs. This seems to be disproportionate to their education structure and indeed, shares of recent EU-13 movers reporting to be over-qualified for their jobs are particularly high (37%, compared to 27% of EU-15 movers and 20% of nationals). Lack of language skills in the host country’s language appears to be the main (known) obstacle to getting a job among all movers, followed by a lack of recognition of their qualifications (especially for EU-13 movers) … Among EU-15 returnees, mobility seems to have an effect on the type of occupation carried out after return, with recent returnees employed to a greater extent in highly skilled occupations than their non-mobile national counterparts. This is not the case, however, for EU-13 returnees, although they also have higher shares of highly-skilled persons than non-mobile nationals.[3]

The negative trends observed above should raise concerns among promoters and beneficiaries of labour mobility, while stimulating greater efforts towards identifying new ways in which real improvement in the rate of recognition of workers’ qualification and labour market integration could take place. Observations contained in the 2016 Annual Report serves as indication that there is much about intra-EU mobility which we still unaware in relation to the actual experience of mobile EU citizens in the labour market.

However, in the midst of an on-going debate on international migration, the refugee “crisis” and Brexit, Free Movement has received some significant attention in recent times; although not always based on evidence, and in most cases as an “add on” to on-going discussion on international migration and refugee movement to Europe. For once, would be refreshing to see a two-day conference focusing primarily on Free Movement in Europe, tackling the issues faced by movers, lessons-learned and ways forward – lead by civil society with the support of EU institutions and Member States. In general, robust evidence is much needed when attempting to counter a wave of misconceptions about the costs-benefit regarding intra-EU mobility. Several evidence-based contributions have been made to this debate, in recent years, including the 2015 EUROFOUND study on “Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services”, initiatives like “On the Move”[4] (2017) and REMINDER Project[5](2017-present). But evidence alone would not move the process forward, we need greater political will and well-target measures that can stimulate a positive momentum, like those we have seen in recent years by a number of initiatives focusing on youth unemployment or refugee integration, supported by the European Commission, EU Member States and other key stakeholders.

As Brexit negotiations moves on, discussion on issues related to EU citizens most affected by the “separation” on both side of the Channel has reached some agreement (EC Memo 2017[6]). However, as we live in “interesting times”, perhaps would be important to widen the scope of the discussions in view of gaining a broader perspective and support on Free Movement among EU citizens involving both “movers and stayers”. In my view, this could be done by injecting a dose of greater structure into the dialogue and exchange of information on Free Movement by the establishment of a dedicated forum, while stakeholders continue paddling in the path towards new policies and programs on employment, intra-EU mobility, EU citizenship, and most important carrying on the daily task of implementation at local level.

As suggested in previous post, given the timing and importance of Free Movement as one of the core pillars of the Union, perhaps it is time to consider supporting civil society organizations to establish an Intra-EU Mobility Platform focusing primarily on issues related to intra-EU movers. To date, European institutions have supported the creation of forums dedicated to issues such as, combatting human trafficking or the European Migration Forum, so why not consider the establishment of one dedicated sole to Free Movement? This mechanism could among other things, strengthen the knowledge bases, address misconceptions and promote dialogue among key stakeholders working on issues related to employment, social affairs, integration, return, circular migration, Citizens rights, etc.

In light of the commitment of an “European Union [made] of its citizens and for its citizens! Encouraging and facilitating citizens’ wider involvement in the European Union and what it stands for”, such network could foster greater cross-border dialogue about a core pillar of the Unions’ policy – Free Movement. Moreover, a network made by and for EU citizens would encourage direct participation of civil society in the discussions towards shaping policies and programs related to intra-EU mobility, thus enabling EU citizens to participate in the construction of an ever closer Europe”.

In conclusion, an Intra-EU Mobility Platform which would include representatives from civil society organizations, employment and social affairs (i.e., national and city level), EU institutions, representatives from employers’ organizations, trade unions, academia and experts. In addition, the network could contribute among other things to the identification of: emerging trends, lessons learned, example of practices and areas for further research, and potential direction for programmes and projects in support of intra-EU mobility. The latter of particular importance to movers, because results from research shows that intra-EU mobile citizens are under-serviced in relation to their needs.

To date, a number of academic research and projects have received funding from the European Commission in support of intra-EU mobility (e.g., Horizonte 2020 – Intra-EU mobility and its impacts for social and economic systems, 2016; DG Justice – Rights, Equality & Citizenship Programme, etc.), combined with initiatives at national and local level. However, as we live in an information-overloaded society dominated by “virtual” channels, for those working on the subject, especially policymakers and practitioners, as well as citizens – perhaps such a network would be of value towards creating a focal/resource point where common understanding of the issues at hand and potential ways forward could be developed. As acknowledge by several speakers in a recent round-table on intra-EU mobility in Brussels[7], information is not enough, rather investment in people towards increase participation is need. What’s more, investment in people through appropriate responses is especially needed within a process of community building based on inclusion, solidarity and forward thinking.

In sum, as we witness challenging times ahead … last but not least, a mechanism in a form of an Intra-EU Mobility Platform could serve as a supporting instrument to the work of the Media and human rights defenders in countering xenophobia and misinformation. In addition, such platform could serve as a viable forum where intra-EU mobile citizens could voice their concerns and share experiences with a wider audience, including potential movers.

 

Reference: Victor Hugo, “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” 

[1] European Commission, ISSN:2529-3281, second edition, May 2017, page 12.

[2] Ibid. page 13.

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://euonthemove.eu

[5] Role of European Mobility and Its Impacts in Narratives, Debates and EU Reforms, European Union’s 2020, http://www.reminder-project.eu

[6] EC Memo, “Questions and Answers – the rights of EU27 and UK citizens post-Brexit, as outlined in the Joint Report from the Negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government”, 12/12/2017.

[7]“Cities, Regions and Mobile EU Citizens: getting involved in getting involved”, Region & Cities, European Week, 2017 http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/opendays/od2005/fo/ViewWorkshop.do?doAction=viewWorkshop&previousDoAction=openFOSearchWorkshopsDialog&workshopId=1e2754f05d0ef6f8015d14883c390171&conferenceId=1e2754f05af7bd32015c9ad616ab000c