ISSUE 26 - Page 4

EU boost for professionals' job mobility

ONE OF THE LONG-STANDING BARRIERS to job mobility in the European Union, still far below US levels, has been the lack of mutual recognition of professional qualifications between countries. The aim of creating, in a future EU, the 'most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world', in the words of the famous Lisbon declaration, has been thwarted by a number of factors but the inability of qualified workers to move quickly into employment in another Member State has certainly been one of them. Such cases as the 13-year struggle of foreign lecturers in Italian universities to be payed at the same rate as Italians in the same job have highlighted the stubbornly restrictive practices that persist in many countries. Now the European Parliament has moved closer to breaking down the barriers. It voted in favour of a proposal from the Commission for a 'directive on the recognition of professional qualifications' which would roll up fifteen existing regulations into one measure. In principle people who were legally established in a profession in one Member State could practice it, temporarily, in another, subject to them providing the relevant information to the authorities and their clients.

Bolkestein, F.

For sectors such as health, where public safety concerns are paramount, registration would also be required. A more flexible and automatic procedure will be instituted for recognising new qualifications throughout the EU with national professional associations coming together to form a European level platform. It is hoped that this system will be better able to deal with scientific and technological progress and, together with the Commission, to inform European citizens, of their rights to recognition of their qualifications and their likely working conditions if they move to another country. While the Parliament made some amendments, some designed to ensure that qualifications accepted by Member States are at equivalent levels, the Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein seemed well satisfied. 'I thank the European Parliament for endorsing the Commission's approach. Enhancing the freedom of movement of qualified persons will mean more opportunities for those people themselves, more choice for those who use their services and wider dissemination of good professional practice'..

Zappalá, S.

Internal Market Commissioner
Frits Bolkestein

MEP Stefano Zappalá who introduced the proposal to the Parliament

Apathy fear as parties gear up for Euro-poll

THE NEXT ELECTIONS TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT will take place from June 10th to13th. The accession of ten new Member States means that 732 MEPs will be elected to represent 450 million EU citizens. While parties across Europe are in the process of choosing their candidates at the time of writing, the people do not seem nearly as enthused as the politicians. Since the first direct elections in 1979 the percentage of eligible voters actually turning out has been steadily dropping, from 63% to 1999's low point of 49.4%. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in the UK where 24% of electors marked their cross; not only was this the lowest turn-out of any EU member it was the most apathetic response in any nationwide UK poll. The head of the European Parliament's office in London, Dermot Scott, identifies several reasons for this including the war in Kosovo which diverted attention and local elections which were held just six weeks before, resulting in 'voting fatigue'. This time the British government has combined the two polls and EU issues are more to the fore. This should ensure a higher turn-out although local concerns may eclipse European ones in election debates, according to Mr. Scott. David Martin, Labour MEP and vice-president of the European Parliament, is more worried about procedural wrangles between the parties, perhaps over whether to have a referendum over any new EU constitution, obscuring issues of more direct relevance to the voters. Gary Titley, leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party adds 'only the extremists can benefit from a low turnout in the European elections'. Conservative MEP Charles Tannock believes that the people of Britain do not realise that 50% of UK laws originate in Brussels and therefore how important it is to vote. The challenge now, he said, is to get this message across to the electorate.

Cashman, M.

Brussels Parliament

Strasbourg parliament

Verhofstadt, G.

Remek, V.

Kinnock, G.

The European Parliament buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg and (clockwise from top left) famous names Michael Cashman, Guy Verhofstadt, Glenys Kinnock and Vladimir Remek who are seeking to enter it.

However this would seem to be an uphill struggle as in a recent survey conducted by the European Parliament's London office, only 9% of voters questioned agreed that the EU was an important issue for the country. Only 18% said that they were definitely going to vote in June. The Parliamentary authorities have plans to drive this percentage up; a special web site will be launched with lists of all the candidates and the achievements of the body, particularly in the fields of food safety and the environment. Advertisements will be placed on 'landmark buildings' and sporting events will also be used to promote the election. In the UK only, there will also be telephone canvassing of hundreds of thousands of people urging them to vote. In the new Member States parliamentary buses will tour with information and seminars and conferences will be organised. Juana Lahousse-Juarez, who heads the Parliamentary election task force, said: 'The aim of this action plan is simply to raise public awareness of the European Parliament and encourage turnout in this year's elections. We obviously hope that turnout will go above the 50% mark this time, but we are not setting any targets'. Whatever the turn-out there will be a big turnover at the parliament as about two-thirds of present MEPs will not be back after June. There will also be 162 new faces from the acceding states. The balance between the parties is obviously harder to predict but more Eurosceptics are expected with a brand-new party in Sweden likely to take 20% of the vote while the largest group the EPP (centre-right) appear split between German federalists and British Conservatives who oppose any further integration. The British Greens are aiming to increase their representation from 2 to 6 while the UK Independence party thinks it could attract a fifth of the electors. Well known names like Michael Cashman and Glenys Kinnock will be standing for the PES (socialists). A sitting Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium and, among the more colourful candidates, Vladimir Remek, an ex-astronaut from the Czech Republic, will also throw their hats into the ring.


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