BRUSSELS – Contrary to the vision of a “Fortress Europe” to keep illegal migrants out, the European Union on Wednesday proposed to lower the drawbridge for targeted labor migration where the 27 nations can no longer find a local talent pool to fill essential jobs.
With the proposal, the EU is seeking to walk a tightrope between populists and extremists, who condemn almost any kind of migration into the bloc, and businesses, from local to multinationals, who increasingly cannot find locals to fill jobs in the EU's quickly aging job market.
From construction to health care and the high-tech experts needed for the EU green transition, the local talent pool in the bloc of 450 million people has increasingly proved insufficient.
And instead of forcing talent from across the globe to seek entry into the lucrative EU labor market via the illegal and dangerous migration route where the EU is increasingly restrictive, Wednesday's plans call for a safe and legal way.
“This package is also a strong, if not strongest, disincentive to irregular migration,” said EU Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas.
Member nations already have a EU-wide platform where job seekers can more easily find vacancies in any of the 27 countries, but with the new plan, the system would go worldwide. The EU-wide platform now has almost 3 million vacancies, a vivid illustration of how third-country nationals could profit.
On top of the platforms, the plan calls for measures to cut red tape when it comes to professional qualifications so that job seekers should not be held back for months and years because of diverging paperwork.
The plans will now be assessed by the 27 member states and the EU's parliament before they can be turned into reality.
In the meantime, the issue gets mixed up in the overall European debate on migration, where labor concerns often get short shrift in a shrill debate that often spills over into raw racism. The theme will also be key in next Wednesday's parliamentary elections in the Netherlands.
Economically too, the urgency is there, and EU businesses realize they are facing competitors across the globe.
“Europe is engaged in a global race for talent, the same way that we are fighting a global race for raw materials or energy,” Schinas said, mentioning the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia as prime rivals.
Such is the need that even the EU's economic juggernaut, Germany, is looking for some extraordinary measures. Two weeks ago, the government approved legislation that would allow asylum-seekers to start working earlier even if their situation has not fully been settled.
The German package still requires parliamentary approval and is the latest in a series of steps taken recently by the government as it tries to defuse migration as a major political problem. The issue was one of several that led to a poor showing in state elections last month for Chancellor OIaf Scholz’s quarrelsome three-party coalition and gains for a far-right party.
Schinas had no doubt the battle with the far-right would continue.
“We will continue to oppose this populist discourse that Europe is either incapable of doing anything on migration, or opening the floodgates we are not doing either. We are working for a regulatory solution long term,” he said.