EU-25: Member States grapple with the free labour market


In the EU-25, the free movement of workers across borders will remain restricted. Based in part on research provided by ECAS, EurActiv offers a detailed overview of the different 'transitional arrangements' the Member States will implement up until 2011.

The EU's enlargement is expected to prompt European companies
to look eastward with their new investments and production lines,
while the labour force in the accession countries is expected to
look West for better jobs. Will the EU-15 change the EU-10, or

The EU-15 states have committed themselves to
increasing the rights of access to their respective labour markets
and will refrain from taking away rights which have already been
granted. Under a 'preference rule', EU-10 citizens must be given
priority over people from non-EU countries in case there is a
vacancy in any of the EU-15 job markets.

In the EU-10, labour markets are significantly
cheaper than in the EU-15. After enlargement, many businesses in
the EU-15 are likely to consider relocating all or part of their
operations to the new European countries where generally lower
corporate tax rates come coupled with a relatively more competitive
and entrepreneurial labour market.

Based on historic precedents, it appears
justified to expect that post-enlargement labour movement will be
limited. The EU's previous enlargements also involved low-wage
economies, but the accession of these countries did not result in
mass labour migrations. The entry of Britain, Ireland and Denmark
in 1973 brought in proportionally more people to what was then only
a six-nation bloc (the EEC) and it passed off fairly smoothly.

Meanwhile, UN data indicate that without
immigration, Italy - for one - is set to lose about a third of its
current population by the middle of this century, and Poland - the
largest accession state- is expected to lose 15 per cent of its
citizens. Even with the current level of immigration and the
enlargement by ten new Member States, the EU will have fewer
citizens in 2050 than it does today.

Nutshell scenarios for individuals seeking

  • from EU-15, in EU-15: No change from previous practice. Since
    Cyprus is not affected by the 'transition arrangement', it also can
    be considered part of EU-15.
  • from EU-10, in EU-15: see individual countries under
  • from EU-15, in EU-10: see individual countries under
  • from EU-10, in EU-10: None of the new Member States have
    requested a 'transitional period' in this bracket. However, these
    states each have the ri ght to subsequently invoke

Workers who move to other countries within the EU-25 generally
have the right to:

  • take up a job without a work permit (subject to the
    'transitional arrangements')
  • receive equal treatment in employment matters, social and tax
    advantages as compared to nationals
  • bring along family members, irrespective of their
  • full co-ordination of social security
  • full mutual recognition of professional qualifications



This overview of measures is originally based on a paper
prepared by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), with
additional research performed by EurActiv.

Austria and Germany: Transitional measures will be
imposed not only as regards the free movement of workers but also
against the freedom to provide services in selected
(country-specific) sectors. The requirement for work permit will
remain in force also for those citizens of new Member States who
will seek to deliver services across the border and will want to
bring their own employees along. In Austria, only those employees
who have been legally employed in the country for more than 12
months (at the date of accession of their country to the EU) will
be eligible to move freely. In Germany, the previously established
bilateral employment quotas will remain in force for at least two
years. Austria and Germany are expected to apply the longest
possible 'transition period'. In the EU, labour costs are among the
highest in Austria and Germany.

Cyprus: The Mediterranean island is exempted from
the restrictions on labour mobility.

Malta: The citizens of Malta are free to work in
any of the EU-15 countries. Meanwhile, the island nation of 400,000
has the right to apply restrictions ('safeguard') on inbound labour
migration for up to seven years.

The Netherlands: During the enlargement
negotiation phase, the Dutch government seemed to be inclined to
refrain from imposing restrictions. However, in early 2004 the
government decided to tighten its entry policies. The authorities
have pledged to speed up work permit applications for employees
from eight new Member States (minus Cyprus and Malta, as their
citizens do not require a work permit). The fast-track procedure
applies to those sectors of the Dutch labour market where a
shortage of workforce has been identified. In these sectors the
employers will not be obliged to furnish proof that a Dutch or EEA
citizen could not be found to fill the vacancy. The Netherlands has
also decided to consider tightening its entry policies if over
22,000 workers per year arrived from the eight new Member

Finland: Helsinki will continue to enforce
'transitional arrangements' for at least two years. The rule of
thumb will be that work permits will be granted only if a Finnish
national cannot be found to perform the given job. Cyprus and Malta
will be exempted from the restrictions, and so will seasonal
workers and students seeking to work part-time. Access to the
labour market for EU-8 citizens will not be restricted if they
reside in Finland for some purpose other than employment (ie
entrepreneurs, family members of employees and students). Neither
will the transition period legislation apply to those who have
already lived and worked in Finland for more than a year or to new
EU citizens who would be entitled to work if they were citizens of
third countries. The 'transition arrangements' will not affect the
free movement of labour within the framework of the freedom to
provide services.

Denmark: For at least two years, 'transitional
arrangements' will be imposed. Only full-time workers will be
entitled to a work permit, which will also be conditional on the
granting by the Danish Immigration Office of an official residence
permit. Citizens of Cyprus and Malta are subject to the same rule s
that apply to other EU-15 citizens. The employees from the EU-8
states will not have immediate access to the country's welfare
schemes. The restrictions apply to wage-earners only - all EU-10
citizens are free to establish independent businesses in

France: Paris intends to maintain 'transitional
arrangements' for five years (a minimum of two years) after
enlargement. However, the procedures are expected to be flexible
depending on the sector or region concerned. The restrictions apply
to wage-earners only, while students, researchers, self-employed
persons and service providers are exempted.

Spain: Madrid will apply restrictions for a
minimum of two years. Further details of the restrictions are

Portugal: By and large, Portugal is expected to
follow in the footsteps of Spain. The Portuguese government has
already set an annual limit of 6,500 on immigrant workers from all

Italy: Italy will impose an immigration quota of
20,000 per year from the EU-8 (exceptions are Cyprus and

Sweden: The country will apply no restrictions on
immigration from the EU-10 countries. The Swedish government
expects to see around 10,000 job applicants from Eastern Europe
(the respective figure was 6,000 in 2002 and again in 2003). Under
standing regulations, several hours of paid work are enough for an
individual to be granted a work permit.

Czech Republic and Slovakia: Workers from the
EU-25 states will face no restrictions in the Czech Republic and in

Poland: Warsaw will apply reciprocal measures,
under which Poland will only allow Irish and British citizens to
work freely in the country. The plan is for Poland to oblige
citizens of the other EU-15 states to obtain a work permit
(citizens of Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden can expect easier
terms, while people from Austria and Germany will face additional

Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg: These Member States
will apply restrictions for a minimum of two years.

United Kingdom: The UK will not be imposing
'transitional arrangements'. At the same time, the country will
oblige immigrant workers to register with the Home Office under a
new "Workers Registration Scheme" and to obtain a worker's
registration certificate. Cyprus and Malta citizens are exempted.
No restrictions will be placed on self-employed as well as family
members of EU-8 nationals who already have the rights to work in
the UK. However, EU-10 access to the UK's welfare benefits will
remain limited.

Ireland: Ireland will open up its labour market to
the citizens of the EU-10 states.

Hungary: Budapest will impose labour restrictions
on a reciprocal basis over the whole seven-year period. The
measures will not apply to the citizens of the EU-10 states.

A recent study by the Dublin-based EU-agency
European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and
Working Conditions
said that even under conditions of full freedom of movement,
migration from all new Member States to all 15 "original" Member
States would be likely to be about 1 per cent in total of the
working age population of the new Member States over the next five

According to the workforce management

<strong>Manpower UK, "Contrary to much speculation, [enlargement] is unlikely to
result in a flood of migrant labour from the East to the West,
however there will be an opportunity for employers to tap into new
pools of labour from new Me mber States."

European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) believes that the EU-25 should commit themselves to end the
transitional period for free movement of workers as quickly as
possible, and within two years at the latest. According to ECAS
Director Tony Venables, "These transitional measures are a virus
which can undermine the internal market across the 25 unless the
contagious element is stopped now".

Attending the festive 3 May 2004 session of the
former President of Poland Lech Walesa spoke out against the EU-15's restrictive measures. "This is
communism", he said, asking, rhetorically, "How can you come up
with such an idea?"