Friday, October 26, 2007

Why the EU Work Card Leaves me Blue

It's a shame that the proposal to create a blue card to attract skilled professionals into the European Union is being seen by some as a federal-Europe-versus-nation-state debate. In my mind, the issues are far more important than this.

Let's start from first principles. Europe, we are told, lacks skilled workers in certain fields - engineering, IT and medicine are often quoted as examples. Developing nations, apparently, have such professionals. Some of them emigrate to North America or Australia, enriching the economies of those nations, while Europe is left with a skills shortage.

Answer? Invite, encourage and facilitate some of these professionals to move to EU countries through a selected system of inward migration that targets such individuals and their families.

There is, of course, one missing element from this apparent win-win scenario. The developing nations lose some of their brightest and best talents - highly skilled professionals in both the business and public sectors whose participation in the economic, social and political life of their home countries can be extremely significant. The loss of a doctor from Cameroon, for instance, is felt more acutely than would be the case in France or Britain. The same is true for engineers, scientists and IT professionals.

The blue card system, I fear, is yet another example of an uneven playing field and an unequal trade system which benefits the rich countries at the expense of the poor. Having exploited Africa's natural resources a century ago, is Europe not now in danger of drawing away her intellectual resource?

Would a more imaginative approach not be to make the study of medicine, technology and science more attractive to European children and teenagers? There are reasons why British universities produce such large numbers of media studies and design graduates and why leading universities are having to close entire science departments. In the end, these more prosaic solutions may prove to be more just ones.

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