EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Mobility of workers


Mobility of workers in a European-wide labour market has been a primary objective since the creation of the European Community. The preamble to Council Regulation (EEC) 1612/68 of 15 October 1968 on the freedom of movement for workers within the Community states that ‘mobility of labour within the Community must be one of the means by which the worker is guaranteed the possibility of improving his living and working conditions and promoting his social advancement’. All EU citizens enjoy the right to take up paid employment in another Member State under the same conditions as that Member State’s own citizens. Article 45 TFEU that governs the free movement of workers ensures:


  • the right to seek employment in another Member State;
  • the right to work in another Member State;
  • the right to reside for that reason;
  • the right to stay there;
  • equal treatment concerning access to employment and working conditions.
  • that the Regulation governing the free movement of employees also applies to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, members of the European Economic Area.

Social policy in the EU was closely connected with the mobility of labour within the common market. The second Chapter of Title III of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, entitled ‘The European Social Fund’, had as its main function ‘to improve employment opportunities for workers in the common market’ (originally Article 123 EEC, now Article 162 TFEU).

Following EU enlargement in 2004, some EU15 Member States introduced what has become known as the 2 3 2 regulation. This is essentially a transition formula which allows Member States to impose restrictions on the free movement of labour. It requires Member States to indicate their intentions regarding labour mobility in 2006 and 2009 and then by 2011 to lift all restrictions. However, with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, two countries also covered by the 2 3 2 rule, access to employment can theoretically be blocked until 2014.

A Communication from the European Commission on Mobility, an instrument for more and better jobs: the European Job Mobility Action Plan (2007-2010) (COM (2007) 773 Final) has the following aims:

  • to improve existing legislation and administrative practices regarding worker mobility;
  • to ensure policy support for mobility from authorities at all levels;
  • to reinforce EURES as the one-stop instrument to facilitate mobility of workers and their families; and
  • to foster awareness of the possibilities and advantages of mobility among the wider public.

The mobility of workers in Europe thus remains an important resource both in terms of employment and European competitiveness and is a central concern for Member States today. It is also central to the priorities of the 2007-2010 Action Plan and the new phase of the Lisbon Strategy (2008-2010), which aims to make the European Union the most competitive economy in the world and achieve full employment by 2010. These include numerous provisions aimed at facilitating and structuring worker mobility by providing more guarantees for both employers and employees.

Current figures, however, show that in fact very few Europeans work abroad and that the EU effective mobility rate is about half that of the US. A 2007 study published by Eurofound, Mobility in Europe, shows that long distance mobility is not common: only 18% of Europeans have moved outside their region, while only 4% have ever moved to another Member State and only 3% outside the Union. The study shows that different Member States have different mobility intentions; that young and educated workers are the most likely to move; and that mobility goes hand in hand with economic success. These data are confirmed by a European Commission study, Geographic mobility in the European Union: optimising its social and economic benefits (April 2008), which puts the percentage of workers from the Member States of the EU who live in a different Member State from their country of origin at 1.5%.

Job mobility is also affected by the rules governing supplementary pension schemes, which continue to pose obstacles to mobility for workers across Europe, according to two independent studies, presented by the European Commission in January 2008. The studies support the case for a Europe-wide initiative to improve people's access to supplementary pension rights when changing jobs or working in another EU country and form the background to the Commission's proposal for a directive on pension portability.

See also: Eures; European labour market; free movement and social security; free movement of workers; occupational mobility; portability of social security rights; portability of supplementary pensions; professional qualifications


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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