Select Committee on European Union Fifteenth Report


182. The High Level Skills and Mobility Task Force set up by the Commission based its work on three main principles:

  • the freedom of movement within the European Single Market is a fundamental objective of the European Union;
  • there is a need to promote a knowledge-based society in Europe; and
  • there is a need to establish full employment in the European Union in accordance with the objectives set at the Lisbon European Council in the spring of 2000.

183. The Committee is a great supporter of these three principles. We agree that the development of a knowledge-based society is a fundamental determinant of competitiveness and growth in a global economy, and that Member States must therefore strengthen policies to foster skills endowment in Europe. The Committee clearly sees the benefits of improving skills and thereby attaining higher occupational mobility. We wholly support this objective.

184. Furthermore, the Committee appreciates that eliminating the barriers to geographical mobility will increase the degree of choice EU citizens have over where to work. Yet neither the Commission nor the Government produced any evidence of the number of people who currently want to move but are frustrated from doing so, and thereby are not able to exercise their right of freedom of movement. The Committee considers that securing the right of freedom of movement through the removal of barriers is essential. However, we see this as separate from and achievable without a need for policies that have the aim of increasing the aggregate level of geographical mobility.

185. There is a lack of evidence on the factors influencing people not to move. The extent to which geographical mobility is artificially restricted by barriers is not known. It is not clear whether the "low" levels of mobility observed are an expression of individuals' general reluctance to move or of their inability to do so because of barriers. The Committee is extremely concerned that policy is being drafted despite the absence of significant statistical information in this area.

186. The Committee appreciates that it is important to work towards removing inefficiencies within labour markets, so that they are able to respond quickly to changes in demand. Yet increasing geographical mobility is only one means of improving the flexibility of labour markets, and improving flexibility by other means (such as improving occupational mobility or wage flexibility) can reduce the need for geographical mobility. Moreover, the Committee is not convinced that increasing geographical mobility is a condition of achieving the objective of full employment in the European Union.

187. We strongly believe that the Commission and Member States should invest in research in order to be able to judge effectively to what extent geographical mobility is an important factor in the development of European labour markets.

188. The Committee recognises that there may be many personal benefits from geographical mobility, and considers that the aim should be to provide a framework within which those wishing to move could do so easily and not to increase geographical mobility for its own sake. We believe that people's choice is best increased not just by removing barriers to geographical mobility, but also by creating jobs in the less-developed areas of the Union.

189. Considering that there is clear evidence that the lack of mutual recognition of qualifications is a barrier to individuals and employers, the Committee welcomes the Commission's intention to propose a simplified, more uniform, transparent and flexible regime of recognition for vocational qualifications in the regulated professions. However, as the Committee is concerned that the benefits of mobility to the individual should be available to all groups in society, initiatives should be encouraged concerning the mutual recognition of qualifications in non-regulated professional and other vocational skills, in order to ensure the removal of barriers for all. The Committee is also in favour of the Commission developing an over­arching transparent framework for the assessment and recognition of non-formal and informal learning.

190. The Committee agrees with the Commission that a lack of language skills represents a significant barrier for those considering geographical mobility. We call on the UK Government to develop the National Curriculum so that it is in line with the Task Force's recommendation that the teaching of the first foreign language to all pupils start from age 8, at the latest. We consider that it should remain a statutory requirement for all pupils to continue studying a foreign language until the age of 16.

191. The Committee considers that ensuring all workers have basic skills is essential in working towards the agreed goals of the Lisbon Strategy. We are accordingly appalled that 20 per cent of the UK workforce is functionally innumerate or illiterate. The "up-skilling" of the workforce should now be an urgent priority for the UK. The Committee strongly urges the UK Government to encourage those people without the basic foundational skills to acquire them through participation in compensatory learning. To achieve this, we think that they should follow the Commission's proposal and extend the right to free compulsory education (granted in the Charter of Fundamental Rights) so that it includes free access to the 'foundation skills' of literacy and numeracy for all citizens, regardless of age.

192. In order to increase occupational mobility and fill the identified skill gaps, the teaching of basic skills has to be coupled with the provision of lifelong learning. The Committee supports the targeting of lifelong learning and training initiatives at third-country nationals, women and older workers.

193. Finally, the Committee calls on the Commission and Member States to work towards improving people's knowledge about their rights and the opportunities for employment that there are across the EU. We consider it important to ensure that those who want information can access it so that citizens can make informed judgements about whether or not to move. Moreover, in order to ensure that mobility is an option for all—and not only for those who currently are the most educated and informed—we consider there to be a need to tell those who are not aware of their rights about the opportunities that exist for them around Europe. This may best be achieved through school-level education and career advisory services.

194. The Committee considers that the Communication from the Commission on making labour markets more open and accessible raises important questions to which the attention of the House should be drawn. We therefore make this Report to the House for debate.

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