EU Tries To Square The Circle On ‘Blue Card" Proposal

EU tries to square the circle on 'Blue Card' proposal

Deutsche Presse Agentur
November 12, 2007

EU interior ministers have welcomed plans to introduce an “EU Blue Card” aimed at luring skilled workers from Asia and Africa, but they also called for a clearer definition of who should be eligible to apply for one.

And several ministers reiterated their belief that immigration rules should remain under the exclusive competence of national governments.

A Council meeting in Brussels on 8 November allowed government ministers a first chance to debate the EU initiative, which was first proposed by Commissioner Franco Frattini several months ago and which was adopted by the EU's executive on 23 October.

Frattini's proposal involves granting third-country professionals who agree to relocate to the EU similar benefits to those currently enjoyed by their European colleagues.

Candidates would be able to apply for a single work and residency permit, valid for a minimum of two years and renewable, and accepted throughout the union. Foreign white-collar workers would also be allowed to be joined by their families in their new country of residency.

The Blue Card proposal aims to help fill labour shortages in the 27-member bloc, particularly in its wealthiest countries.

According to Commission data, non-EU professionals make up just 1.72 per cent of the EU's total employment population, about half the rate in the United States and nearly a sixth of the comparable rate in Australia.

The problem of labour shortages is particularly acute in wealthy countries like Denmark, where years of robust economic growth have pushed its unemployment rate to a 33-year-old low of just 3.1 per cent. Economists say Denmark desperately needs more workers in order to avoid an economic slowdown and higher inflation.

While all ministers and diplomats taking part in Thursday's debate praised Frattini for his efforts, several of them expressed reservations about how to define the term “highly-skilled worker.”

Some, like Dutch Deputy Minister of Justice Nebahat Albayrak, warned that verifying a candidate's eligibility for a Blue Card might prove difficult and thus slow down entry procedures.

Others, like the Italian representative, warned that the EU should avoid giving the impression that it was “stealing” developing countries' brightest brains.

And both German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble and his Austrian colleague Gunther Platter insisted that their governments should be left to decide which and how many immigrants should be allowed into their country.

“In Austria, immigration is a possibility, not a right,” Platter said.

“This sounds like a square circle,” retorted Astrid Thors, Finland's minister of migration and European affairs, who pointed out that the EU idea whereby people should be allowed to move freely around member states contradicted with governments' demands that they should be allowed to limit the influx of skilled foreigners.

Speaking after the debate, Frattini told reporters that “all ministers” had supported his initiative and that he was optimistic that an agreement could be reached “by the end of the year.”

The EU's interior ministers will continue discussing the Blue Card proposal along with their labour ministers at a Council meeting scheduled for December 6.

Also on Thursday, the Council agreed to extend the abolition of systematic checks at internal land and sea borders to nine new member states on December 21, 10 days ahead of schedule.

The nine countries that are set to join the so-called Schengen free-movement area next month are: Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Passport control at airports in these nine countries will still remain in place until March 2008.