A European community that keeps proper pace with globalization must implement structural, systemic, and societal changes that help citizens to move more frequently and permanently.
So far, the EU approach to labor mobility has been failing. Despite long-standing legislation and initiatives such as the Bologna process, the movement of labor within the EU has been extremely low. Less than two percent of EU-25 citizens live and work in a Member State different from their country of origin, and an average of only 7.2% of Europeans move each year, 15% of whom do it for occupational reasons. By contrast, 16.2% of Americans relocate annually, 17% of whom refer to a change in job as the main reason for their move.
To save the EU from falling further behind the US, policy makers should concentrate on three main planning areas:
1) Development of a uniform institutional structure that provides standardized, EU-wide social security coverage, and equitable pension benefits, works toward a consistent and understandable legal system, and conforms income tax codes across Member States.
2) A harmonized educational and vocational training system so that the qualifications and skills acquired in one EU country are fully recognized in another one. Higher educational systems should be further harmonized, and school systems joined and synchronized, so that the children of employees who move frequently within the EU are able to continue their studies without interruption.
3) Most importantly, the EU should provide a societal framework that makes relocation easier. This involves not only overcoming current habits that favor cultural embedding and an aversion to non-natives, but also fully establishing an EU-wide social community. Public relations firms, take note: this step involves redefining the "EU vision" itself and convincing citizens of 25 different member states that they all belong. A comprehensive marketing strategy must bring the EU to the people’s doorstep and beyond. Daily reminders of the social interconnectedness of this network should come not only through origin labels at the supermarket, but also on the way home, in family dining rooms, and other zones outside the workplace.
If the European Union wants to improve its depleted labor mobility rates, it must take drastic and wide-ranging measures. Ordinary policy instruments have not done the trick: it’s time to look into social engineering and marketing strategy. Without such policy innovations, Europeans will stay as immobile as they have in the past.
Christine Otsver holds a M.A. in German and European Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a B.A. (maxima cum laude) in Political Science and German from La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA. She is currently a PhD. candidate in Political Science and Law at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich in Germany. She is also a research associate at Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia and a founder of the Transatlanticus blog.
A look at one facet of EU marketing strategy: sharing promotional videos on YouTube! Here’s one celebrating "unity through diversity" and welcoming the EU’s newest members in 2004.
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