In times as tough as these, with high unemployment and deep cuts to public spending, it can be difficult to see the need for more people to join the European labour market. But the truth is that in many member states there are already serious deficits in the workforce in sectors such as science, health, technology, engineering, mathematics, tourism and agriculture
These deficits will increase and spread rapidly to other sectors because of the EU’s severe demographic challenges. The EU’s active population will start falling as early as in 2013 or 2014 and Eurostat projections suggest the EU workforce will shrink by 50 million over the next 50 years. This does not necessarily mean that Europe will need 50 million additional migrants. Reducing unemployment within the EU has to be a top priority, and the European Commission will soon present a number of actions, for example to reduce the risks of structural high unemployment, strengthen flexicurity policies, and invest more in education and training.
For instance, recent reports indicate that the EU economy could lack between 384,000 and 700,000 IT workers by 2015 and, by 2020, between one and two million health-sector professionals. That represents 15% of the health care needed in the EU. Even with the best policies, it is highly unlikely that all these resources could be found within the Union.
At the same time, global competition for manpower will grow. If Europe is to keep its position on the global market, we need to make our labour market more attractive to possible migrants. This requires work both from member states and EU institutions.
A few months ago, the Commission presented two proposals on legal migration: to improve the admission procedures for seasonal workers, and to make it easier for international enterprises to transfer personnel across EU borders.
Competing for manpower from non-EU countries may drain competence from the non-European world, some argue. These are concerns we take seriously, and the EU seeks to address them through a set of measures in its development policies. But it is also important to realise that, for many people, migration is a way to improve their lives. Moreover, migration stimulates growth, and the skills and knowledge gained in Europe can be an important benefit to the countries from which migrants come. Recent studies show the connection between increased immigration and increased export to the migrants’ home countries.
Only by being open to the rest of the world can the EU resist becoming intolerant, stagnant and self-aggrandising. And only with an open and competitive labour market can Europe rise to its demographic and economic challenges.