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January 2012, Volume 19, Number 1

EU: Blue Cards, Economy

The EU Blue Card program allows EU member states to admit non-EU foreign professionals with a university degree or at least five years of work experience who will earn at least 1.5 times the EU member country's average gross salary (1.2 times in labor-short occupations). Member states decide whether the employer or the foreigner submits the application for the EU Blue Card, which can be valid from one to four years. (The card's color is a reference to the EU flag, which is blue with 12 golden stars in a circle.)

Families of Blue Card holders can join them after six months, and spouses can receive work permits. After five years, Blue Card holders can become permanent EU residents.

The Blue Card program aims to make the EU more attractive to foreign professionals. After 18 months in their first EU country, Blue Card holders may move to another EU member state. The 24 EU member states bound by EU migration rules (not Denmark, Ireland or the UK) were supposed to enact national legislation to implement the Blue Card program by June 2011, but Malta, Italy and Portugal did not do so.

The Blue Card program was developed in 2007 by then-EU Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Franco Frattini, who asserted (wrongly) that 55 percent of immigrants to the US are highly qualified, compared to five percent of immigrants to the EU, argued that the EU must develop a common migration policy to attract more highly skilled foreigners. Frattini believed that the freedom of movement within the EU promised by the Blue Card would make the EU more attractive to highly skilled foreigners.

EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in November 2011 announced an EU Global Approach to Migration and Mobility with Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. Under EU mobility partnerships, students and guest workers have an easier time entering the EU in exchange for North African government cooperation to prevent illegal migration and accept the return of unauthorized foreigners. The EU will also create Migration and Mobility Resource Centers in North Africa to provide advice on legal study and work options in EU countries.

Economy. EU leaders, in ever more contentious meetings throughout Fall 2011, agreed to give EU institutions more power to review and veto the fiscal decisions of national governments to avoid another round of deficit spending. Germany, the large EU country with a credible fiscal policy, was widely seen as having the winning hand in the negotiations. By allowing the crisis to get worse, Germany won the support of all countries except Britain to yield some sovereignty to the EU over fiscal policy in exchange for providing funds to lend to weaker countries, especially Greece, Italy and Spain.

The euro, launched in 1999 at $1.18 and issued to the public in 2002, was associated with economic crises a decade after its introduction. Now used by 17 countries, the euro has replaced the German mark as the world's second reserve currency, after the US dollar.

The European Commission, the executive of the 27-member EU, proposed to spend almost $1 trillion between 2014 and 2020, up slightly from E925 billion. About 40 percent of EU spending is on farm-related subsidies, which benefits especially France, while poorer EU members benefit from "cohesion" funds. Most countries receive "structural" funds for disadvantaged regions.