Germans Reject EU Fast-Track Immigration Scheme


Germans Reject EU Fast-Track Immigration Scheme

Spiegel On Line
October 24, 2007

Politicians in Germany have voiced their opposition to a Blue Card fast-track migration scheme for the EU. But the country's business leaders say the economy desperately needs more workers to meet the growing skills shortages.

The EU would like to see more highly trained experts from India and elsewhere working in Europe.
The European Commission may want to introduce a unified “Blue Card” system to attract highly-skilled immigrants to the European Union, but the biggest economy in the 27-member bloc is saying it's not interested.

Germany's politicians have reacted negatively to the idea, saying that it should be up to individual European Union countries to decide on immigration and labor policy. But the country's business leaders are making different noises. They say that despite unemployment hovering at around 3.5 million, Germany is crying out for skilled workers such as IT specialists and engineers.

With much fanfare European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini launched their vision (more…) for a European Blue Card fast-track migration program, similar to the United States Green Card scheme, in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The plan would allow skilled workers from outside the EU to overcome immigration hurdles more easily. “We are not good enough at attracting highly skilled people,” Barroso said at the press conference. “With the EU Blue Card we send a clear signal — highly skilled people from all over the world are welcome in the EU.”

But with the EU requiring all states to accept the scheme for it to become law, Germany's aversion to lowering the hurdles even for highly-skilled professionals could put the kibosh on the whole plan.

Germany's Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan, a member of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), rejected a European-wide Blue Card. “Every member state in the EU will decide on its own regulations for the immigration of highly qualified workers,” she told the Passau Neuen Presse on Wednesday. The minister said that the German government was giving priority to education and training at home.

Other CDU politicians echoed her reservations. “I doubt if it is possible to have standard regulations on issues such as immigration throughout Europe,” Michael Hennrich, a member of the European Parliament, told the Tagesspiegel, adding that “the job market situation and the salary situation in Germany are considerably different to those in Southern or Eastern European EU states.” Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy CDU floor leader in the Bundestag, said “We have to concentrate on jobs for nationals.”

Bavaria's Economics Minister Emilia Mller of the Christian Social Union (CSU) told the Augsburger Allgemeine that “in the current labor market situation, the first thing is to mobilize the domestic labor potential.” She said that employing more women and older people should take priority over immigration.

Germany's Labor Minister Franz Mnterfering of the Social Democrats and Economics Minister Michael Glos (CDU) had already rejected the Brussels plans when they were first mooted in September (more…). Mnterfering said that these kinds of decisions should not be made by the commission, but rather had to be “the responsibility of national parliaments and governments,” while Glos said: “Germany could not take in large numbers of foreign workers just because it needs them at one particular moment.”

But while Germany's politicians seem determined to block any easing of immigration rules, business leaders welcomed the Brussels plans.

“The Blue Card initiative is a good contribution to the German debate on making immigration rules simpler and better suited to the economy,” Martin Wansleben, director of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) told the Sddeutsche Zeitung.

And August-Wilhelm Scheer, president of the IT and telecoms association BITKOM, also greeted the moves to ease restrictions on migration. “The Blue Card is an important instrument for alleviating the skills shortage in the high-tech sector. “Business leaders claim that there are currently 40,000 unfilled jobs in the IT sector and that there is a shortfall of 9,000 engineers and other skilled workers in plant engineering and construction. According to the Sddeutsche Zeitung, there are 3,500 full time jobs vacant in Siemens alone. Manfred Wittenstein, president of Germany's VDMA machinery and plant manufacturer's association told Reuters that the lack of qualified workers could even end up hampering growth in the sector. “Immigration can certainly not solve the problem of scarcity of qualified workers but it can alleviate it,” he said.

But it looks as if German politicians are determined to resist the Blue Card. And they have not been alone in their cool response to the scheme. Austria and the United Kingdom are also opposed to the idea, with British Immigration Minister Liam Byrne telling the London Times on Wednesday: “Frankly we do not support these proposals. This is why we have secured an opt-in for all immigration measures and stay outside EU legal migration directives.”