Yet although the distance between from one European country to another may be smaller than in the US, the obstacles that need to be overcome are considerably greater.
Cultural barriers are the most self-evident. Foreign languages are essential for many posts – restricting the number of people who are equipped to undertake assignments. Working cultures can also vary between regions, making it difficult for managers to get the best from all employees.
Regulatory barriers are the most complex to deal with. Diverse social security systems throughout Europe are funded on different bases and supply varying levels of benefit. Typically they penalise those who choose to travel between systems.
Practical barriers include areas like young people’s education. Apart from language, school systems vary, sometimes making it completely impractical to move from one country to another. And even if someone has the requisite skills and languages to move abroad, it is likely that their spouse or partner does not.
All of which create considerable cost barriers for companies looking to work throughout Europe. According to a recent CBI survey, 16 per cent of companies expect the volume of international relocations to increase in the coming year. This is down on last year’s figure, perhaps an indication that companies are looking to avoid the high costs.
On a broader level, the high price of mobility within Europe can handicap the development of European champions, particularly in the expanding hi-tech industries. For example, an American business looking to grow throughout the US has none of the above considerations compared to a European company expanding in the EU. To reach the level of global player therefore requires additional expertise, and for a European company is like running a hurdle race against competitors running on the flat.
To explore these issues further, the CBI has launched the European Mobility Forum (EMFO) with support from the European Social Fund. It aims to create a unique information resource on employee mobility throughout the EU, looking at the practical and innovative solutions to obstacles that are developed on a regular basis by companies all over Europe.
The project will explore and disseminate good practice, and will be particularly useful for growing SMEs looking to minimise the initial costs of moving employees.
EMFO was launched at the Europe Without Borders conference in London last week. A web site will incorporate information on a complete range of subjects related to employee mobility on a country-by-country basis, and an on-line debating forum. Apart from helping companies throughout the EU, research from the project will be used to lobby relevant government institutions.
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Contact Tom Hadley