One of the cornerstones of the EU – the free movement – has been questioned during the year. This is a right that we in the Commission will always defend. All EU citizens have the right to move and reside in any Member State of their choice. Apart from the freedom for the individual, the free movement of workers has a positive effect on the European economy and the labour market. As an example, thousands of unemployed Spanish engineers are now employed in Germany.
At the same time as the free movement generates benefits to the EU and its economy, when people are moving this is also posing challenges to cities in Europe. The economic and financial crisis has sparked a debate in certain Member States on the impact of free movement on national social systems and local services. One response to this concern was that we published a report showing that mobile EU-Citizens on average are more likely to be in employment than nationals of the host country. The report also proposes five measures for local authorities in improving and clarifying the rules.
Connected to the free movement is also the Schengen Agreement. During this year we have agreed to strengthen the Schengen cooperation. In the new system, the Commission will be given a central and coordinating role. No Member State will be able to close their borders on their own authority. The Commission will also keep a watchful eye on the EU’s internal borders, to make sure that no Member State abuses border controlling possibilities, such as unjustified passport controls. We know that this is occurring all too often.
We know that mobility and migration is important for economic growth and development. Therefore, we are working with visa liberalization and visa facilitation. This is an important part in the EU’s cooperation with its neighbours. This week I was in Turkey to sign an agreement on the start of negotiations on visa liberalization with them. It is an important development of our relationship. In November, the Commission also proposed that the citizens of the Republic of Moldova should be granted visa freedom. Negotiations on the same topic are ongoing with Ukraine and Georgia. It is central for the daily exchange between countries, that ordinary citizens easily can travel and visit friends and family, that businessmen can do business, that tourists do not have to wait for weeks to be granted a visa.
Despite high unemployment in Europe, we paradoxically have troubles finding qualified labour within several areas. The demographic challenge is also great in several countries – quite simply, too few babies are born in Europe today. More efforts are of course needed here: more women should access the labour market, we also need to step up our efforts on education and on integrating the immigrants already residing in Europe. Labour migration is not the solution to all problems, but it is an important factor. We must therefore do more to make Europe more attractive and accessible for people outside the EU.
In March I presented a proposal to reduce the bureaucratic obstacles and give better conditions for students and researchers from third countries, to make the EU more appealing for them. For this proposal, the final decision in the European Parliament and Council of Ministers has not yet been made. However, a good solution has been found in the discussion around entry, residence and rights for migrant seasonal workers. The new rules will facilitate the visa-procedures and the seasonal workers will also benefit from the same rules as EU nationals on e.g. working hours, minimum wage, leave and holidays, as well as health and safety requirements. The issue of labour migration will indeed be a central one in the coming years.
The EU is facing an important election in May. We must continue to defend the free movement, stand up against intolerance and recall that migration is both an asset and a success factor.