1.7.2006 | Von:
Michael Heinen and Anna Pegels


A look at the countries that chose to allow the free movement of workers from the EU8 immediately following accession shows that fears of large, unmanageable streams of low- or unqualified workers causing unemployment and wage decreases in the EU15 were unfounded.

The number of EU8 workers seeking employment in the EU15 is lower than predicted; those who do come tend to bring with them a range of qualifications and skills that are lacking throughout the EU15. In light of these developments, the European Commission recommended in its report that the other EU15 states abandon the transitional arrangements and apply the free movement of workers principle in full.

Having restricted the free movement of workers in the first phase of the transitional arrangements, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland have abandoned these restrictions in the second phase [1], in the hopes of enjoying the same economic benefits that the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden have over the past two years. This is not the case for Germany, which will keep restrictions in place until 2009, if not until 2011.

This policy brief has provided some counterarguments to the reasons given by Germany for continuing to restrict the free movement of workers from the EU8. This is not to say that Germany's labour market and welfare system are currently in a condition to derive maximum benefits from increased labour migration. However, EU8 nationals will eventually gain unrestricted access to the German labour market; the faster Germany carries out further reforms, the sooner it will be able to profit even more from this round of EU expansion and the one planned for Romania and Bulgaria in the near future. Furthermore, consideration has to be given to the way in which EU8 migrants can be integrated in the state welfare system without raising costs and, in turn, public resentment.

Under current labour market conditions, it is quite possible that Germany would not be able to profit as much from free movement in the short term as Great Britain and Ireland, with their more flexible labour markets, have. The time during which the transitional arrangements are in place could be used to introduce economic reforms. However, if Germany fails to attract highly qualified workers in the near future, it may risk losing potential long-term economic and demographic gains. The longer the country waits to allow free movement, the more likely it is to lose Central and Eastern Europe as a source of young, motivated and often qualified workers whose presence is needed to combat economic sclerosis and the effects of an aging workforce. With Bulgaria and Romania set to join the European Union in January 2007, the EU15 could yet benefit from an influx of young workers. However, given the political climate in Germany and the fact that the country will be able to make use of the same 2+3+2 transitional arrangements written into Bulgaria and Romania's accession treaty, it remains to be seen if workers from Central and Eastern Europe will come to be perceived as an enrichment, instead of a threat.


France has announced its intention to lift restrictions gradually in certain sectors. The Netherlands has postponed its decision on opening the labour market until the end of 2006.



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