Commission issues labour market mobility action plan

The European Commission issued in February 2002 an action plan designed to increase labour market mobility within the EU. In the plan, which builds on the recent recommendations of the high-level task force on skills and labour mobility, the Commission sets out action plans in the areas of improving occupational mobility, improving geographical mobility and improving access to information on employment around the EU.

The European Commission adopted on 13 February 2002 an action plan aimed at removing obstacles to the mobility of EU workers, both between jobs and between Member States, by 2005. Based on the recommendations of the high-level task force on skills and mobility, which were issued in December 2001 (EU0201234N), the Commission's action plan focuses on three main issues:

  • tackling insufficient occupational mobility. Data for 2000 show that only 16.4% of workers in the EU had been in their job for less than one year, compared with 30% in the USA;
  • tackling low levels of geographical mobility. Only 1.2% of the EU population changed region to live during 1999, compared with 5.9% people in the USA who moved counties; and
  • improving access to information on mobility.

Launching the action plan, the Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner, Anna Diamantopoulou, stated that: 'Mobility of workers is the 'poor relation' of EU freedoms. Governments, business and workers must bring it in from the cold. Mobility is vital to create better jobs and to bridge skill gaps in the EU labour market. But also, obstacle-free, geographical mobility will be a visible sign to citizens – like the euro – that the EU works in their daily lives.'

Occupational mobility

The Commission aims to see 'significant and measurable' improvement in the mobility of workers within the EU by 2005. In order to achieve this, it suggests a number of actions, as follows:

  • 'concrete steps' should be taken towards cost-free access to the acquisition of key and basic skills for everybody. Further, EU 'quality marks' should be established for the best information and communications technology (ICT)-based learning systems;
  • targets should be set for increasing numbers of students, and especially female students, in the areas of maths, science and technology. Further, better information should be given to girls and women about job opportunities in the areas of science and technology;
  • there should be targets for educational achievement and better integration into education systems for young people with disabilities, people with learning difficulties immigrants and people from ethnic minorities;
  • there should be better links between education and work – a network of industry and education advisory bodies should be set up;
  • there should be targets for getting workers – and particularly older workers – onto company training schemes, fuelled by incentives to business and workers;
  • there should be awards for companies or public agencies which have the most innovative lifelong learning strategies;
  • in the area of ICT, there should be EU-wide definitions, standards and validation of skills. There should also be better monitoring and matching of ICT skills with business demand;
  • there should be EU-wide recognition of non-formal learning and work experience and the creation of a modular system for the accumulation of qualifications from different institutions and countries; and
  • there should be an increase in funds for human resource development

Geographical mobility

In order to encourage the movement of workers between the different EU Member States, the Commission makes the following suggestions:

  • there should be 'effective maintenance' of social security rights for workers going to live in a different Member State. In particular, the Commission suggests the creation of an EU health insurance card and the creation of portable supplementary pension rights;
  • there should be clearer and more 'user-friendly' EU rules regarding the recognition of qualifications in regulated professions and voluntary quality standards in education and training to promote mobility in non-regulated professions;
  • there should be increased efforts to create a single market in cross-border services and to remove barriers to freedom of establishment;
  • tax and benefit systems should be reformed in order to aid regional mobility within Member States;
  • there should be an opportunity to learn foreign languages, starting by the age of eight, with the chance to acquire two European foreign languages by the end of compulsory schooling. Further, there should be a chance for each student to spend a proportion of their higher education – the Commission suggests one-third – in another EU Member State;
  • local, regional or national restrictions on qualifications in collective agreements should be removed; and
  • there should be agreement on a common immigration policy.

Access to information on employment

In order to improve access to information on vacancies available throughout the EU, and therefore increase mobility within the EU, the Commission suggests the following:

  • a 'one-stop European mobility information site' should be established on the internet, with a more detailed service for regulated professions. By the end of 2002, an EU portal on learning opportunities should be set up;
  • the current EU on-line job search system (EURES) should be expanded; and
  • there should be an EU-wide information campaign on mobility, which should include actions such as sectoral campaigns.

This action plan was forwarded to the spring European Council meeting which took place in Barcelona on 15–16 March 2002 (EU0203205F). The Council welcomed the plan.

Commentary

This latest action plan from the Commission seeks to tackle a wide range of issues in order to encourage greater labour mobility within the EU, both between countries and between occupations. In terms of occupational mobility, the key issues include the acquisition of relevant skills and the constant updating of skills and competencies in order to keep pace with technological change.

In terms of geographical mobility, the key areas which need to be reformed include the mutual recognition of qualifications and work experience, and particularly increased coordination in the areas of health and occupational pensions. One aspect which the Commission seeks to address here is the lack of foreign-language competencies and experience of other EU Member States. By recommending that all schoolchildren should learn two European foreign languages and that all those in higher education should have the opportunity to spend one-third of their time in another EU Member State, the Commission hopes to facilitate greater cultural exchange and awareness, which could later be translated into labour market mobility. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)

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