2006 - The European Year of Workers (Im)Mobility
As the EU is currently still celebrating the year 2006 as the European Year of Workers’ Mobility it may be a good idea to review what restrictions on intra-EU mobility still apply towards the CE-8, and how this celebration is reflected in declarations on the opening up of the labor markets towards the 2007 two candidates – Bulgaria and Romania.
Upon the previous (1/May/2004) enlargement of the EU, labor market restrictions were an individual decision of each member state. The restrictions could sum up to a maximum of seven years, after which the workers from CE-8 will have to be treated equally with workers from the old member states (which should happen in mid 2011 at the latest). On the day of accession only three states (Ireland, Sweden and UK) opened up their labor markets, while other countries retained their permit systems, though admittedly with some changes, be it instant or gradual, in the way they are issued. After a two year period (1/May/2006) another four countries (Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain) decided to adopt the ‘open-door’ policy, and two months later, Italy notified the Commission that it is doing the same. The rest of the countries do not seem to be moved by the ‘2006 Year of Workers’ Mobility’ slogan and is keeping the permit schemes, though admittedly the ‘toughness’ of the restrictions varies among countries. Notably, Italy is the only EU founding member that has decided to open up its labor market.
As for the new enlargement, to come next year, the declarations seem even more severe. The leaders of the previous open-door policy seem a bit overwhelmed by the influx of workers from the CEEC-8, which well exceeded estimates, and thus the UK was the first country to declare (Eastern approaches, FT: October 25 2006) it will not extend its policy to Romania and Bulgaria. With similar voices from Ireland, it is hard to expect the more conservative (on the 'open door policy') states will not follow, especially the ones with restrictions still applying to the previous group of acceeding countries. The threats of reciprocity on the side of the candidates will probably have no influence on the other member states (as for instance Poland and Hungary have been applying the rule since accession).
On the other hand, the CEEC-8 states do not seem to give a fabulous example themselves. When joining the EU in 2004 they jointly decided not to restrict labor market access to each other. Now, there seems to be less consensus. The Estonian, and then the Slovak government declared it will not apply any restrictions (here) and were recently followed by a similar declaration from Poland (here, in Polish unfortunatelly ). The other countries seem rather undecided, Hungary seeming rather against the idea (here). Politically, this seems to be a mistake, as one can still recall the complaints on the decisions of most EU-15 countries to seal up their markets against CEEC-8. Moreover, the open-door policy towards Bulgaria and Romania would be rather a signal than have a huge effect on the CEEC-8 economies.
Whatever the outcome will be, the labor markets inside the EU are still far from open to EU citizens form transition economies.
Labor market restrictions information source: EURES