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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 18:22 GMT
Europe's push for mobile workers
Pizza chef
Will this man make pizzas anywhere other than Italy?
The European Commission has proposed an action plan to make it easier for Europe's workers to find and move to jobs anywhere around the continent.

Economists agree that lack of labour mobility is one of the biggest barriers to Europe becoming a truly single and efficient market.

The Commission is proposing to make the tax, pension and social security systems across the EU more compatible and to increase immigration from outside the EU.

But these proposals, which should remove barriers to trade and work across Europe and therefore make the EU more competitive, are likely to face some tough opposition.

These changes will be debated at the Barcelona summit in March.

Some countries, like Britain and Sweden, jealously guard the national government's control over their tax systems, and Germany is unlikely to approve an increase in immigration, especially in an election year.

Business demands

A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 70% of businesses it surveyed across eight European countries expect their need for mobile employees to increase over the next five years.

But it found that nearly half (48%) admit they are already having problems recruiting senior staff.

By contrast, a MORI survey of more than 8,000 people in the same eight countries found only 17% are interested in living and working abroad, and most of these are young and inexperienced.

Workers not convinced

In America 2.5% of workers are willing and able to move from one state to another for work every year.

In the European Union only just over 0.1% of all workers do the same.

Europe has an ageing workforce and a high-tech skills shortage.

One of the largest barriers to labour mobility in the European Union is language.

For a Finn to work in Spain or a Greek in Denmark involves not just a willingness to move to the other side of Europe but a serious amount of investment in learning another language.

Encouraging pupils to learn at least two foreign languages is one of the proposals listed in the Commission's action plan.

Other proposals include a 'health insurance card' valid in all EU member countries.

This would replace the current five-page document workers must fill in when moving between countries for continued health benefits.

Transferring other benefits such as pensions should also be made easier according to the Commission's 25-point proposal.

A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 70% of businesses it surveyed across eight European countries expect their need for mobile employees to increase over the next five years.

But it found that nearly half (48%) admit they are already having problems recruiting senior staff.

By contrast, a MORI survey of more than 8,000 people in the same eight countries found only 17% are interested in living and working abroad, and most of these are young and inexperienced.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonty Bloom
"Europe has an ageing workforce and a high-tech skills shortage"
Kevin Delaney, Price Waterhouse Coopers
"There probably isn't a shortage of talent across Europe it just happens to be in the wrong place"
See also:

13 Feb 02 | Health
EU plans Europe-wide health card
11 Jul 01 | Europe
Europe's immigration vision
11 Apr 01 | Europe
Job blow for Central Europe
23 Mar 00 | Europe
Europe's jobless millions
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