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HOW MANY MORE WORKERS WILL ENLARGEMENT BRING?

An additional nuance has been added to the pre-enlargement debate about migration. While hysteria continues to disfigure discussion in some Member States, the European Union's training agency has provided new figures aimed to allay fears that current Member States will be swamped by waves of workers from the East.

"In the near future, the real increase in EU employment opportunities might well be centred on Central and Eastern Europe, rather than on the 'old' member states", speculates the Director of the European Training Foundation.

He claims that higher economic growth and the likelihood of foreign direct investment will rapidly make the acceding states a jobs hothouse.

And, he goes on, "the medium- to long-term prospects are better still": educational attainment statistics in the region are encouraging, public expenditure on education is high, and training of the current workforce is already at the same level in the acceding states as it is in Germany and France. The new priority given to education and training in the Lisbon Strategy gives further reason for optimism, says the ETF.

For the sake of Europe, rather than of the ETF, it can only be hoped that its Director is right. And already there are some grounds for caution about the ETF contention.

Any argument that relies on citing the Lisbon Strategy for its substantiation must at present be regarded with some scepticism. Lisbon is not, so far, delivering, and there are currently few signs that it is going to.

And many of the statistics presented by the ETF seem to fly in the face of its own conclusion. They show acceding states performing worse on labour market activity, employment rates, unemployment (and particularly long-term, youth, and low skilled unemployment), public employment services, and tertiary education.

The EU has devoted considerable energy to providing information about the impending enlargement. In the face of the exaggerated negativity in some parts of the EU to this huge event just four weeks away, the EU's incentive to talk down fears of enlargement is understandable and even laudable. But it is crucial that the arguments are watertight. In an area as sensitive as this, there is no room for idle rhetoric.

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Title Annotation:migration debate
Publication:European Report
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Apr 7, 2004
Words:361
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