László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion said that the decision was taken in response to “the very specific employment situation in Spain”.
The EU’s fourth-largest economy, Spain has the bloc’s highest unemployment rate and is currently undergoing austerity measures designed to avoid a Greek-style bailout.
Traditionally open to foreign workers, including those from the newest EU member states, (see background), the country has recently experienced a massive inflow of Romanian workers – from 388,000 in 2006 to 823,000 in 2010.
Romanians in Spain have been strongly hit by the rising unemployment levels, and 30% are now out of work, with 191,400 cases recorded in the first quarter of the year, second only to Spain’s own citizens.
Spain’s decision to open its job market to the workers from the two most recent EU member states, Romania and Bulgaria is irreversible, so its restriction on Romanian workers has been introduced in the form of a safeguard clause, limited until 31 December 2012.
If Spain consider further restrictions necessary after this date, Madrid must lodge a further request with the EU executive.
A Commission spokesperson admitted that the step is unprecedented in EU history. She made clear that the restriction related only to new arrivals of Romanian workers seeking work in Spain.
Such application would not automatically be rejected, she said, but would need to apply individually to the Spanish authorities for a working permit. The Commission insisted that the measure would not affect Romanians already in Spain.
Unemployed Romanians in Spain will not forfeit welfare payments as a result of the measure, and will be covered by the same rules as other Spanish nationals, the Commission spokesperson said.
Romania has two weeks to react to the Commission decision, which was adopted by a written procedure of the College of Commissioners.
Romanian press cources said that the Vice President of Romania’s Senate, Cristian Diaconescu, blasted Spain and the EU executive for the decision.
Diaconescu leads the National Union for the Progress of Romania in the country’s second chamber, a small party supporting President Traian Basescu. He said that the imposed restrictions amounted to “outright violation of the very principles on which the European Union is based”.
He accused the Spanish government of looking for scapegoats for it “unsatisfactory” performance and said that the Commission was "biased" against some of its own citizens.
He also claimed that ‘disturbances’ in the Spanish labour market have little to do with the large number of Romanians, instead blaming the relative ease of obtaining unemployment benefit in Spain, and the long periods for which such allowances are available.