5th Dec 2023

EU work permit 'blue card' faces opposition

The European Commission's plan to attract non-EU workers has run into difficulties, as several member states question whether Brussels' bureaucracy should play a role in the area.

On Thursday (6 November), interior and employment ministers from the 27-nation bloc failed to give complete backing to a set of ideas tailored to tackle one of Europe's major dilemmas - how to fulfil its economic need for guest workers, while alleviating the pressure of illegal migration.

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The biggest controversy centres around an EU work permit - dubbed the blue card - allowing employment to non-Europeans in any country within the 27-nation bloc.

"We have 3.5 million unemployed, which means that companies can find workers within Germany", the country's employment minister Olaf Scholz said, according to AP, adding that a European initiative into a purely national matter was not needed.

Berlin fears that the blue card would be the first step towards Brussels setting out the specific numbers of economic immigrants able to enter the territory of an individual member state.

EU home affairs commissioner Franco Frattini dismissed those concerns by saying "it is not up to Brussels to decide how many engineers Austria or Germany need".

Under his proposal, an Indian engineer would be allowed to come to an EU state after presenting a valid work contract or a binding job offer.

At first, the work permit would be limited to a maximum two-year stay, followed by the possibility to move to another EU state, so long as there was a valid work contract available.

"I am convinced that common rules to regulate people entering the EU are necessary", Mr Frattini said, underlining that a member state will be free not to participate in the blue card regime.

The EU's executive body argues that the EU workforce is shrinking because of the ageing population, while competition for highly-skilled workers is growing in an ever-more globalised economy.

In Europe, non-European highly-qualified workers make up only 1.7 percent of the employed population, but they account for nearly ten percent in Australia, over seven percent in Canada and over three percent in the US.

On the other hand, it is estimated there are up to eight million people staying illegally in the 27-nation bloc, although 87 percent of those who enter the old continent are under-educated and do not meet the union's labour market needs.

But despite those arguments, Czech employment minister Petr Necas described the blue card idea as "wrong".

He pointed to the fact that people from Central and Eastern Europe, who joined the EU club in 2004, still face labour restrictions in five countries, namely in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and Germany.

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