Labour migration discussed in the European Parliament

NEWS Published

A hearing about the revised EU Blue Card Directive was held on November 7 at the European Parliament. The Directive aims at making the EU more attractive for highly qualified third-country nationals, that is, those from countries beyond the EU/EES area. Hearing participants included representatives from the OECD, the EU Commission, the European Parliament and the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. The hearing was valuable because critical assessments of the proposed Directive was discussed, and the participants’ conclusion was that the revised EU Blue Card Directive has a bright future if it allows parallel national systems for labour migration.

Too few issued Blue Cards leads to a revised Directive

The current Directive has been used less than expected when enacted, leading the EU Commission to propose a revision designed to attract more highly qualified and talented workers. In collaboration with the OECD, the EU Commission has prepared a report to serve as a basis for the proposed revised EU Blue Card Directive. The report recommended that EU measures could create added value to benefit both companies and employees. OECD representatives Jean-Christoph Dumont and Jonathan Chaloff, noted that the Blue Card scheme did not intervene in criteria under EU Member States’ national systems for immigration, but offered additional distinct advantages, as with flexibility in using the scheme and a lower salary threshold to better compete with the national systems.

They also argued the benefits of harmonising the various existing national labour migration systems, and taking a step toward a single EU-level system, due to the implications of having parallel competing national schemes. The EU offers a larger labour market, and it is of importance to try to make the system more advantageous for entrepreneurs to attract high-qualified labour.

Members of the European Parliament with diverging views

The audience expressed diverging views of the revised EU Blue Card Directive and its impact on national competency. Some were sceptical that any decision on a ‘desirable level’ of immigration should be taken at the EU level. Many noted the lack of discussion on how the Blue Card scheme would interface with the national systems within the framework of the Directive, expressing concerns it could lead to more bureaucracy and undesirable harmonization at the EU level. Other MEPs emphasized general support for abandoning the national systems if the Blue Card scheme was sufficiently ambitious and flexible. EU Member States supporting the EU Blue Card scheme rather than national systems seemed, however, to be in the minority. Swedish MEP, Cecilia Wikström (L), described meeting the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka who stated the EU had become less attractive whereby many people now sought work in the US, Canada, Australia and China instead. The EU would have to become more attractive to third-country nationals to remain competitive.

The Swedish Labour Migration System

The revised Blue Card includes several improvements, especially relating to greater mobility within the EU, but also raises certain highly problematic aspects. Karin Ekenger presented how Sweden has succeeded in attracting highly educated, among other skilled employees, in recent years, though not through the EU Blue Card scheme. Only eight Blue Cards have been issued in Sweden since 2009, which are fewer compared to other EU Member States. She believed this was most likely due to the well-functioning national system already established in Sweden, which the government, businesses and labour market partners jointly endorsed.

The Swedish model is both flexible and ambitious, covering all types of labour, as opposed to the EU Commission proposal, which addresses only those with higher education. The EU has a shortage of labour within several professions, and Ms. Ekenger identified problems related the Blue Card scheme being limited to only highly qualified labour – as this fails to benefit the business sector. In her view, Sweden’s limited interest in the Blue Card scheme also reflected the high salary threshold of the Directive – as most labour migrants are close to 30 years and hence starting their carriers. The wage setting in Sweden may also characterized as being less attractive to highly qualified labour, compared to the US, Australia or Canada. The salary threshold is an immediate problem to address in order to stimulate interest in an EU-wide Blue Card scheme, Member States should have freedom to choose in applying that threshold, according to Ms. Ekenger.

The Swedish model is designed to address employers’ needs. The Swedish labour migration system is based on wage and employment conditions being determined through collective bargaining agreements or accepted industry practice for the job involved, and requires the job to lead to self-sufficiency. No government authority intervenes to determine the desirable type of labour or educational level. There are also no limits to length of employment, or restrictions relating to work permit renewal – as this is based on the employment contract concluded between the labour market partners. This model therefore enables quick, easy, and legally correct, labour supply – not least for asylum seekers. Many new arrivals have gone from being asylum seekers to becoming labour migrants, to everyone’s benefit. How can we keep this sought-after labour migration if the Directive fails to include all job categories?

Four questions to Ms. Ekenger after the hearing

What is your take-away from this hearing in the European Parliament?

Most important for Sweden is to highlight the need or capability to maintain parallel national systems.

What do you want to see from the revised Blue Card scheme? Can the EU Blue Card be made more attractive?

Yes, the changes as announced show that much has already been done, but the critical issues leading qualified third-country nationals to choose Sweden are still the job, and individuals’ future prospects.

What impact would the proposed revisions to the Blue Card Directive have on Swedish companies?

If the current proposal is not improved, it will lead to more difficulties in recruiting third-country nationals. This would cause different systems for those with higher education or corresponding professional backgrounds, and for other groups of workers. The revised Blue Card Directive would add a bureaucratic approach to determining which type of professional experience is equivalent to academic degrees.

How well was the position of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise accepted internationally? As it was discussed during the hearing, it seems Sweden's national system was considered highly positive.

Several participants expressed the view that countries should be able to maintain their own national systems parallel to the revised Blue Card Directive. Not least because these national systems function better. But an improved Blue Card scheme may play a greater role in Europe’s future, especially if it covers broader categories by lowering the salary threshold. But this will not replace the more general system we have in Sweden, where the employer determines their recruitment needs, regardless of any theoretical skills level.

Emma Lund

News

NEWS Published:

This is how to shape Europe's digital future

COMMENT The European Commission is launching its strategy for Europe's digital future. “The debate on the surveillance society, the mapping of citizens and the profiling of consumers is an important consideration as we move into this future, writes lawyer Carolina Brånby.
NEWS Published:

A Competitive European Industry

EU The European Commission will present its industrial strategy on 10 March. In response to this, Swedish Enterprise has produced the position paper, "A Competitive European Industry". This summarises the organisation's views on a range of issues.
NEWS Published:

11 exciting climate projects from Sweden

Swedish companies have long been at the forefront of combining sustainability and environmental ambitions with growth and innovation. From fossil-free steel to CO2 capture, Sweden’s businesses are leveraging tomorrow's technology for a greener world. As innovation and climate-smart solutions become an increasingly important element in our competitiveness, we have listed 11 ground-breaking climate projects currently underway in Sweden’s business world.
NEWS Published:

"There are no long term winners in a protectionist world"

EU Anna Stellinger, Deputy Director General International and EU Affairs, believes that the new European Commission must demonstrate that it can manage several issues simultaneously. “It must keep the Union and the single market together, stand up for free movement and maintain its focus on core areas.”
NEWS Published:

Swedish Enterprise about the Green Deal

EU – There are several elements contained in the initiative that will be important for Swedish industry, says Lina Håkansdotter, Head of Sustainability and Infrastructure.
NEWS Published:

Worries over Brussels minimum wage initiative

EU The Swedish Labour Market Council for EU Affairs has sent a letter to Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. The letter contains several sharp messages to the Commission, where one is that EU lacks competence in the area of pay. 
NEWS Published:

Stellinger on Trade Policy Day: "Protectionism means everyone loses"

INTERNATIONEL TRADE What is the way forward for EU trade policy during these turbulent times? This was the central issue during the European Parliament’s discussions on trade policy. "We live in an entirely new trade world" said Anna Stellinger, Deputy Director General, international and EU affairs.
NEWS Published:

The GDPR alone is insufficient

GDPR The GDPR compromise from 2016 has been shown to have both strengths and weaknesses - particularly from a business perspective. It is vitally important to delivering proper data protection and trust, but it is demanding and costly to adhere to vague and overly-detailed legislation. This creates compelling reasons to discuss how to support compliance and important processing in order to remain technological competitive, says lawyer Carolina Brånby at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. The report, entitled “What’s wrong with GDPR?”, is now available in English.
NEWS Published:

Questions vital for the future of the industry

SEMINAR The Swedish Construction Federation and MEP Abir Al-Sahlani (RE) have organised a seminar "Building Europe - Future of work the construction” in the European Parliament.
NEWS Published:

Anna Stellinger: Director of International and EU Affairs at Confederation of Swedish Enterprise

NEW LINE OF WORK Anna Stellinger today takes up the newly created position of Director of International and EU Affairs at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise. She will also join the management team.
NEWS Published:

Review the Swedish Exemption Regarding Financial Transactions

TAX The VAT exemption regarding financial transactions is often used in Sweden as an argument to raise taxes in the financial sector. However, the exemption is harming the business climate as well as growth and development.
NEWS Published:

EU lose much of its attraction without the single market

EU A fully developed single market is central to fight climate change, promote sustainable development, to fully harness the potential of digitalisation and strengthen Europe’s competitiveness. Without the single market, the EU would lose much of its attraction.
NEWS Published:

Proposals for competitiveness

REPORT The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, in co-operation with its experts and membership organizations, has produced concrete proposals for measures to ensure that Europe will maintain its competitiveness in the global arena.
NEWS Published:

How EU-decisions affect Swedish companies

REPORT The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise has evaluated how the major decisions taken within the EU during the last mandate period affect Swedish companies. Our evaluation shows that 24 of the 57 legal acts we have chosen to look at have been positive for Swedish companies.
NEWS Published:

SME-companies in the digital economy

EU 24 million small and mid-sized businesses are the greatest asset within EU. "Regulations must be dealt with to give SME-companies the opportunity to reach their full potential", says  Anna-Lena Bohm, chairman of BusinessEuropes SME:s and Entrepreneurship committee.
NEWS Published:

SME-companies in the digital economy

BUSINESS There are 24 million small and mid-sized businesses, so called SME businesses, in Europe. These companies are a great – if not the greatest – asset when it comes to tackling todays economical and social challenges.
NEWS Published:

The Nordic countries need to block EU assault on tax veto

TAX For countries with a common currency and a limited common budget, it is particularly important to be able to pursue an active national fiscal policy when an external shock is encountered, writes Claes Hammarstedt.
NEWS Published:

Artificial intelligence on everybody’s mind

EVENT Artificial intelligence is on everybody’s mind in the EU capital. The European Commission recently launched its strategy for artificial intelligence, which focuses on promoting research and development of AI across European sectors.
NEWS Published:

AI made in EU

JOINT EFFORT The EU-commission has presented a joint effort with Member States to promote the development and use of artificial intelligence, AI, in Europe. To strengthen AI-technology and uptake in Europe is welcome. Swedish Enterprise believes that the conditions within Europe must be strengthened in order to successfully improve the global competitiveness of our companies. Here are our thoughts and proposals.
NEWS Published:

Swedish expert represents European industry in expert group on AI

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise’s digital expert Carolina Brånby is representing BusinessEurope in the European Commission High Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, AI HLEG. Their role is drafting ethical guidelines, and to create recommendations on how to strengthen the uptake of AI within the EU.