For European workers, 2009 does not look like a good year. Europe's overall unemployment rate is nearly 8.5 per cent at the moment, and much higher in some countries. It looks set to rise over the coming months, youth unemployment especially.
At such times, arguing that job mobility benefits all Europeans might seem strange, but it is not. Free movement of workers is a vital element for greater productivity – a major factor in economic growth.
It is easy to blame someone from outside your country for "stealing your job", but all the evidence shows that economies with mobile labour forces are able to recover from economic downturns much quicker than those with more rigid labour structures. The problem faced by employers is that low levels of mobility can lead to a mismatch between skills and jobs. Addressing this mismatch will increase productivity. The current economic and financial climate is causing a downturn in demand for goods and services and changes to labour markets. With a more mobile labour force, businesses can adapt to these new market forces.
For the individual citizen, if they are mobile, they are more likely to find a job. The average employment rate is higher for geographically mobile workers. They have better access to employment on permanent contracts and improved chances of upward job mobility. Mobile workers tend to register wage gains in their new job and they benefit from engaging with new cultures, working methods and environments.
Putting the two elements – the worker and the employee – together is an essential part of the role played by EURES, a Europe-wide employment service, supported by all the public employment services. It provides information, advice and job-matching services for the benefit of workers and employers across the EU plus Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. This is supported by more than 750 advisers working in local national employment offices offering services to jobseekers and employers. So the message must be: mobility works, now more than ever. It will help provide all Europeans with a better future.
Vladimir Spidla is the EC Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities