1.7.2006 | Von:
Michael Heinen and Anna Pegels


On 1 May 2004, eight Central and Eastern European states with a combined total population of approximately 75 million people joined the European Union (EU).
Polnische Arbeitsuchende stehen im August 2006 auf einer Jobmesse in Warschau an, um sich für Stellen in Irland zu bewerben. (© AP)

Membership in the EU guarantees the citizens of these countries certain freedoms within the territories of other member states, including the right to move and reside freely, the right to establish and provide services and the right to take up employment. Immediately prior to the accession of the new states (referred to here as the EU8 [1]), concerns arose in some of the old member states (EU15) [2] regarding the number of potential immigrants that would arrive from the EU8 once they had been granted the freedom to move. Given the relatively low wages and standard of living in the EU8, it was predicted that a disproportionate number of people would move to the EU15 in the hope of earning a better living.

In response to fears in some member states that a 'flood' of cheap labour from the EU8 would lead to higher unemployment rates and falling wages, the EU added 'transitional arrangements' to the accession treaty signed by the new member states. These arrangements allow individual member states to restrict the free movement of workers [3] from the EU8 for a period of up to seven years. Whereas the majority of EU15 states, including Germany, opted to restrict access to their labour markets, three member states – the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden – chose to open theirs to citizens of the new member states. Now that two years have passed since the restrictions were put in place, this policy brief will look at the number and characteristics of EU8 labour migrants who have taken up employment in the countries that chose to open their labour markets, placing particular emphasis on the United Kingdom. It will also consider the impact these migrants have had on the domestic economy and whether or not continued restrictions make sense for Germany.


The EU8 states include the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia. The citizens of the other two acceding states – Malta and Cyprus – were granted full freedom of movement because of the countries' small size and relative economic strength.
The term 'EU15' will be used throughout to denote those states that were EU members prior to May 1, 2004. These include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
This restriction applies to the free movement of workers and not to the free movement of self-employed persons, students, pensioners or non-active persons, as these groups are covered by other provisions, which will not be addressed in this policy brief.



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