03 Mar 2015

Labour Mobility in Europe: An untapped resource?

Mikkel Barslund / Matthias Busse / Joscha Schwarzwälder

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Despite public perceptions, labour mobility is low in the EU, particularly within the euro area.  The authors of this Policy Brief make four main points:  first, that the economic crisis has affected mobility patterns by redirecting flows away from the periphery, and that the financial and economic crisis has shown the limits of labour mobility potential within the current eurozone, largely due to the negligible mobility of nationals from large countries hit by the crisis. Second, east-west mobility has not been fundamentally affected by the crisis, and ten years after the eastern enlargement the number of East Europeans living in EU15 should be of no overall concern. Third, the long-term economic effects of mobility are uncertain, but potential negative effects are more likely to show up in sending countries than in receiving ones. Finally, in view of the lessons learned from the crisis, the Commission and member states should adopt a longer-term view on labour mobility.

The authors recommend a further upgrade of job-matching tools, namely the EURES system, and should foster better recognition of qualifications and the exchange of best practices among mobility networks. In order to improve mobility in the longer term, the Commission and member states should improve the mobility of third-country nationals – starting with those completing tertiary education at an EU institution and able to find employment. The aim of improving mobility gives new impetus to the ‘mother tongue + two foreign languages’ objective and the European Benchmark of Language Competences Initiative, in particular competence in the first foreign language taught at school.

Mikkel Barslund and Matthias Busse are, respectively, Research Fellow and Researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies. Joscha Schwarzwälder is Project Manager at Bertelsmann Stiftung.

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