1.4 European Labour Market and mobility


The term ‘European labour market’ is used to describe the demographic profile of the labour force as well as the systems of regulation, at EU level, concerned primarily with the free movement of workers but additionally with other forms of regulation that shape Europe’s labour market.

The project of creating a European labour market is quite different from the objectives associated with national labour market regulation, where employment protection and industrial relations are the chief concerns. The aim to establish a free movement of workers provided the major context of regulation of the European labour market since the foundation of the European Economic Community in 1957.

The demographic profile of the European labour market has changed significantly in recent years. The proportion of the labour force that is female has increased over the last decade, with the gender gap between men and women falling from 17.1 percentage points in 2000 to 14.2 percentage points in 2007. Migration now shapes the European labour market, and the accession of the new Member States in 2004 and in 2007 has utilised the right to free movement of workers to encourage changes in the national and ethnic profile of the European labour market. Demographic changes associated with an aging labour force have also necessitated new labour market incentives to encourage older workers to remain in the labour force for longer.

Despite the limitations of its original common labour market objective, EU regulation of the labour market did develop beyond the confines of free movement of workers. A major driving force was the interaction of Member States, both individually and collectively, with EU institutions. The policies of Member States exerting pressure on the institutions, in particular on the Commission, have been a major determinant of EC regulation of labour. EU regulation of the labour market has also been used specifically to shape the demographic profile of the labour market, in the form of the Lisbon strategy and the strategy for growth and jobs.






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