Older EU members to completely open labor markets to newcomers

08:33, April 29, 2011      

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The 15 older European Union (EU) members would have to open their labor markets as from May 1 to the eight newcomers that joined the now 27-nation bloc in 2004.

"May 1, 2011 will mark the removal of restrictions on the right to work in any member state for citizens from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia," the European Commission said Thursday.

As part of the 2003 accession treaty and the effort to allay concerns about the negative impact on the labor markets and the social situation of the EU's then 15 member states, a seven-year transitional period was agreed upon, during which countries could still restrict the free movement of workers from the eight Central and Eastern European countries.

Before the transitional period ends on April 30, such restrictions had been phased out by most older EU member states. Germany and Austria remained the only two countries that continued to apply substantial restrictions on labor market access.

As from May 1, all workers from the eight countries that joined the EU in 2004 would be able to take up employment freely across the EU, including in Germany and Austria.

"The removal of these final obstacles for workers from the EU-8 is a great opportunity for each individual but also for the EU as a whole," EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor told a labor market conference in Budapest, capital of Hungary, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, downplayed the risk that a large number of migrant workers from Central and Eastern Europe would flood the labor markets of older EU members.

"The commission does not expect huge flows of workers from the EU-8 countries as many wanting to move to work in an EU-15 member state have already done so," it said.

Figures showed that inflows of workers from the eight new members have been relatively limited. Although the number has increased quite rapidly from around 1 million in 2004 to more than 2.3 million in 2010, it remains low compared to 19 million non-EU nationals residing in the 15 older EU countries.

According the commission's estimates, the total stock of nationals from EU-8 countries living in EU-15 member states would increase to 3.3 million by 2015 and to 3.9 million by 2020.

Meanwhile, experience and studies showed that the impact of any future mobility is likely to be positive, contributing to economic growth and filling existing labor market shortages, the commission said.

According to a study by Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the impact of the future migration of workers from EU-8 countries to Germany would be, in the highest migration scenario, a rise of the German GDP of 1.16 percent, a decline in the average wage level by 0.4 percent, and a small increase of the unemployment rate by 0.2 percent.

After workers from the eight countries get full access to the EU labor markets, Romania and Bulgaria would be the only two members that still face restrictions in the free movement of their workers.

The two countries joined the EU in 2007 and also accepted a seven-year transitional arrangement. Their workers currently enjoy full rights to free movement in 15 of the other 25 EU member states, but restrictions still exist in the remaining 10 countries, including Germany, France and Britain.

The transition period for Romania and Bulgaria ends on Dec. 31, 2013.

Source: Xinhua
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