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EUROPEAN UNION

Pleas for pragmatism as EU charts post-Brexit future

Senior European political figures appealed Sunday for the EU to set aside lofty debate as it struggles with Brexit-style populism, and instead to focus on measures which clearly benefit citizens.

Pleas for pragmatism as EU charts post-Brexit future
The EU has to do more to project its image, says IMF chief. Photo: AFP

Leading the charge, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble — a linchpin of the Berlin coalition government — scorned “political sermons,” institutional reform and changes to EU treaties as proposed fixes for Europe's faultlines.

“This is not a time for grand visions,” the 73-year-old veteran minister, long a passionate supporter of the European project, told Welt am Sonntag weekly.

“The situation is so serious that we have to stop playing the usual European and Brussels games,” Schaeuble said.

Schaeuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said the EU had to work “with speed and pragmatism” to unlock growth and thus create jobs.

He sketched initiatives from a common energy policy to job training to harmonising national defence procurements.

The CDU's coalition partners, the Social Democrats, meanwhile stressed strengthening the safety net for the poor or unemployed — two big factors in the perceived collapse of confidence in the EU.

The goal must be to “not only create competition but also social security,” said Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, describing the crisis in Greece as a pointer of a possible north-south split in Europe.

In the southern French town of Aix-en-Provence, the European commissioner for economic policy, Pierre Moscovici, called for “strong initiatives… to reinvent Europe.”

“Status quo cannot be a reply to Brexit,” he said, referring to the June 23rd referendum in which a majority of Britons voted to leave the EU.

The vote dealt a body-blow to European federalists, who want the bloc's states to come into an ever-tighter embrace.

Critics of federalism argue many citizens are hostile to Euro-centralism. They contend Brussels is not addressing concerns about jobs, living standards and migration.

Moscovici threw his weight behind widening and extending the so-called Juncker Plan — a scheme named after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker which uses EU funds as a lever for investment in areas such as energy, infrastructure and research.

The three-year plan, running from 2015 to 2018, has funds of 21 billion euros ($23.39 billion) from the EU budget and the European Investment Bank (EIB), with the hope that this will leverage private investment of 315 billion euros.

In its current form, the Juncker Plan “is probably insufficient, both in scale and timeframe,” Moscovici told journalists at a business meeting in Aix.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde, who also attended the meeting, said the EU had to do more to project its image so that citizens were more aware of some of the benefits of membership.

“When for instance the European Investment Bank makes very big investments in areas but doesn't say very much and people aren't aware of it, without there being a measure of Europe's economic effectiveness, that's incredible,” Lagarde said.

“It means that the talk will continue to be about 'excessive regulation, bureaucracy, it's all Brussels' fault',” Lagarde said.

Pollsters say regions of Britain such as Cornwall, Wales and Yorkshire which have been huge beneficiaries of EU funds were also those that voted hugely in favour of leaving the Union.

Lagarde said laconically that Britain's exit should simplify decision-making in the EU.

“Now that the English have, in inverted commas, left… at least there are a number of things that I've heard European commissioners say, one after another, ''it's so complicated — we can't do it because of the British',” Lagarde said.

“Perhaps there are now things that should be envisaged, as the British won't be at the negotiating table,” she said.

Lagarde did not elaborate, but French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron said that the British departure could open the way to strengthening the eurozone.

“We have become a bit paralysed in thinking that there taboo geographical areas, and we have spent months and months not daring to meet as members of the eurozone, thinking it would upset the Poles and British.”

Moscovici reiterated ideas for boosting the 19-country eurozone, with a common budget and a “common economic policy.”

For members

IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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