On Tuesday (7 June), the Commission unveiled its Action Plan on Integration, designed to help Member states integrate third-party (i.e. non-EU) nationals and enable them to contribute positively to the social and economic well-being of the EU.
In parallel, this included proposals to reform the Blue Card scheme for highly-skilled workers from outside the EU.
First introduced back in 2009, the scheme has, by the Commission’s own admission, not been the success it hoped – failing to attract sufficient number of skilled workers from outside the EU, leaving them free to explore other opportunities, often in regions and countries competing against the EU.
The Commission wants to ensure a steady flow of skilled workers into the EU so that Europe is not held back by skills shortages in key areas – such as healthcare, engineering and – of importance for this blog – ICT.
As we all know, the wider migration discussion has dominated media coverage and the political discourse for many months. The subject is a controversial one; emotions can run high, meaning that the subtleties and nuances can be lost in the fog of debate.
So the Commission is to be applauded for addressing this issue, recognising that its ambitions for jobs and growth need all the help that’s available – building barriers to those who willing and able to contribute so much makes no sense. Instead, it proposes simplifying and reducing thresholds, and enhancing the rights of successful applicants in a bid to make the Blue Card scheme more attractive to potential candidates.
For the Blue Card scheme to be effective and incentivise skilled workers to come in the numbers required over the long-term, it will need to be applied consistently throughout the EU by Member States. The Commission will also have to make sure that the new scheme will fit seamlessly with other, already existing frameworks, such as the 2014 Intra-Corporate Transferees Directive which has to be implemented into national law by November. Failure to ensure this could lead to a fragmented approach, whereby administrative costs and burdens differ between Member States, creating confusion for would-be applicants.
On a related theme, the Commission unveiled its latest Skills communication on Friday (10 June), with 10 measures aimed at ensuring EU citizens possess the skills required for a work environment that is increasingly entrepreneurial and digital.
While not quite as emotive as migration, skills is, nevertheless, a tricky area for the Commission to venture into,
given it lacks competence in this area – it remains the preserve of Member States. And yet, Commission action in this area can be influential and set a tone and direction for Member States to follow. The emphasis on the importance of skills and education for jobs and growth is also highlighted in the Country-Specific Recommendations – the tailored economic policy guidance for Member States – that the Commission adopted under the European Semester in May.
From a digital perspective, the Communication chimes with the current direction of travel – as indicated by recent public interventions by Commissioner Oettinger (at CeBit, for example), and Spring’s Digitising Industry package – emphasising the importance of boosting e-skills and the importance of a digitally-skilled population to help the EU realise its ambitious proposals for a fully-connected, digital continent.
The Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs has been reinvigorated – aiming to improve the digital skills of the general workforce, rather than the specialist ICT industry – in recognition that, in an ever more digital world, jobs increasingly require a degree of digital skills proficiency.
The reinvigoration of the Grand Coalition – which dates back to the Neelie Kroes era – is indicative of its success. Many organisations got involved and made pledges to improve digital skills, offer placements, implement certification schemes, and so on. The list of those involved is impressive, containing an array of names from the IT and tech sector – Cisco, Google, HP, Microsoft and SAP, to name but a few.
We’ll watch with interest to see whether these latest initiatives have the desired impact.
Stephen Pearson is Senior Director in FTI Consulting’s public affairs team in Brussels.