Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

2 in 1: Migrants Are Both a Problem and a Solution

Zhaneta Kyumdzhieva, March 26, 2013

When does talk emerge about migrants? When an accident happens in a European city involving a citizen of a third country? When we have another episode of credit cards breach or when there are actions by a "criminal group"? Or when elections approach and it is good to recall that because of migrants the population of the host country cannot be guaranteed employment and social welfare? Since recently, another context has re-emerged in terms of migration in the EU - solving the demographic problem on the Old Continent. This includes also the issue of employment because, together with the other unusual developments lately, in the EU there are high levels of unemployment and in the same time a shortage of skilled workers.

This political approach has surfaced during the debate in the European Parliament as part of the March plenary session when the report of German MEP Nadja Hirsch (ALDE) was discussed about the coordination of social security and the impact of integration of migrants on the labour market. In it, she proposes a set of measures to improve the European policy toward migrants and calls 2016 to be declared a European year of integration. By then, the EU and the member states will have a lot of work to do, judging from the proposals in the voted on March 14th report.

Some of the most essential recommendations to the Commission and the member states are:
- improving the opportunities for education;
- encouraging and assisting the children of migrants;
- support for creation of new enterprises by qualified people with migrant origin or others;
- creating desks for preparation of citizens before leaving (pre-departure desks) in the host country and the origin country;
- optimal usage of the European year of citizenship (2013) to focus on the free movement and the full fledged participation of women migrants in the European society;
- more efficient application of the freedom of association of trade unions and of the right for collective bargaining with no exceptions, with the aim to improve and protect decent labour environment;
- smart management of EU borders to assist legal migration;
- expanding and simplifying the usage of the European health card;
- investing efforts in achieving the recognition of qualifications in other member states;
- introduction of a common EU system for coordination to explore the needs for workers with the aim to more efficiently manage labour migration. Quite useful in this system could be the European dialogue platform for management of labour migration. The platform could be useful for regular systemic assessment, too, of long-term demand on the labour markets of EU by 2020 divided by sectors, professions, level of qualification and member states, as proposed by the Commission.

Neither of the above mentioned measures in the report was rejected by the MEPs during the debate. Statements were rather in principle than targeted comments on Mr Hirsch's report. In spite of the good words about migration - migration's contribution in economic, social and cultural terms when it is targeted and legal, the usefulness of attracting experts, scientists and qualified workers, etc. - the EP tribune gave another opportunity of the United Kingdom to express its concerns with the removal of restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians from January next year.

British Nicole Sinclaire, a non-attached MEP, brought up the issue how should London plan its social and health care budget when it does not know what flow of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens it could expect from next year. In 2004, when the 10 Eastern European and Baltic nations joined the EU, the British authorities expected around 14 000 migrants (per year) to cross the borders. So far, they are a million. On march 20th 2013, after a long waiting, the authorities in UK announced that as of 2014 the flow of citizens from Romania and Bulgaria will be around 12 770 people per year. According to the chief of the British think tank Migration Watch, Sir Andrew Green, quoted by The Sun, "There are 2 million Bulgarian and Romanian workers in Spain and Italy who could move".

The organisation has calculated that a flow of around 50 000 people can be expected, the online edition of the newspaper writes. Derek Roland Clark, a member of the group Europe for Freedom and Democracy in the European Parliament with Nigel Farage as a leader, said during the debate that qualified workers from Eastern Europe are welcome, but they are much more needed in their own countries for the building of economy and their prosperity. "It is not fair! I would not like to see poor states in Europe", he said.

The daughter of the Romanian president, a MEP from the group of the European People's Party, Elena Băsescu, focused on the weak level of liberalisation of the labour market. According to her, 6 years after accession, the Romanian and Bulgarian citizens need a working permit in 9 member states and Britain is seeking ways to restrict the labour rights of her fellow citizens from 2014 onwards. Criticism for the current policy on migration was conveyed by another Romanian representative - Theodor Dumitru Stolojan (EPP). According to him, the main tasks for effective integration of migrants are ensuring their access to educational and health care programmes, as well as to fair competition for jobs.

Jutta Steinruck (Socialists&Democrats, Germany) noted that the lack of qualified working hand in many European countries should not justify dumping of wages imposed by migrants from third countries. She added that "payment should be equal for the same job in one and the same place" between migrants and the population of the hosting country, as, "of course, it could be higher". During the debates, there were recommendations for better usage of the European Fund for Integration, for strengthening the work on the integration of women migrants and for measures to restrict illegal migration through better safeguarding EU external borders and assisting legal migration.

The European Parliament resolution underlines that "integration in the labour market and society requires a two-way commitment". On the one hand, the educational institutions, the religious, social, communal and migrant bodies, cultural unions, trade unions, businesses and recruiting agencies bear a special social responsibility in this regard. In order to support their success, migrants should be prepared as early as possible for the local labour market, the legal framework, the administration of the host countries, which can happen through migrant mentoring, integration manuals and "migrants for migrants" assistance, language courses, etc.

In other words, if both sides in this interaction succeed in approaching actively their part of the deal, in 2016 we can really celebrate something on the occasion of the European year of integration.