Vaals, a town of 10,000 inhabitants in southeast Netherlands, is introducing special rules banning the right of residence of foreigners including EU nationals without the financial means to sustain themselves. The Commission said it would examine the decision closely.
On 1 May 2011 Germany and Austria were the last EU countries to lift all restrictions on the movement of workers from the eight Central European EU member states which joined the bloc in 2004 (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia).
Starting in January 2014 – seven years after their 2007 EU accession – there will be complete freedom of movement for workers from Bulgaria and Romania.
Workers from Bulgaria and Romania currently enjoy full rights to free movement pursuant to EU law in 15 member countries – Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic.
But restrictions remain in place in 10 member states (Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, the UK and Malta) and these countries typically require Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have a work permit.
In the context of the expulsions of Roma by the French authorities last summer, it became evident that Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are more vulnerable to expulsion than other EU citizens in that country, as they are still obliged to seek work permits before they are allowed to take up residency.
The Vaals council says it is already paying benefits to a large number of unemployed migrant workers and cannot afford to take in more.
Vaals is situated just 23km from where the Maastricht Treaty was signed in February 1992, leading to a single currency and paving the way for EU enlargement, as the Irish Times ironically reminded its readers.
The Dutch press quotes Vaals mayor Jean-Paul Kompier specifying that Polish and Romanian workers had “great difficulty” finding jobs because of their limited knowledge of the Dutch language.
According to Kompier, nine out of every 100 people ‘who want to settle in Vaals apply for benefits.’ The council says the percentage is higher than in major cities such as Rotterdam.
Asked by EurActiv to comment, Matthew Newman, spokesperson to Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said keeping out EU citizens may constitute a violation of the European rules on the free movement of people within the Union.
He admitted that the EU executive did not have any official information on the ban and was following the developments through the media.
In principle, the free movement of EU citizens and their right to reside freely across the Union is spelled out in a 14-page directive of 2004.
“For periods of residence of longer than three months, Member States should have the possibility to require Union citizens to register with the competent authorities in the place of residence, attested by a registration certificate issued to that effect," article 12 of the Directive reads.
Dutch authorities could therefore deny registration to the citizens of EU newcomers Bulgaria and Romania, for which The Hague has maintained restrictions on the movement of workers. However, since 1 May, all restrictions were lifted on the movement of Polish workers and others from the eight Central European EU member states which joined the bloc in 2004.
Last May, The Hague submitted proposed changes to Dutch immigration legislation to its EU partners, aimed at "achieving a stronger, safer and more prosperous Europe". MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, the head of the Polish delegation within the centre-right European People's Party group in the European Parliament, spoke out strongly against those plans.
The substance of the Dutch proposals remain confidential, but the Dutch government has published a position paper entitled 'The Dutch standpoint on EU migration policy', which largely "reflects the spirit of the non-paper", sources say.
Meanwhile the Belgian Walloon town of Plombieres -- which lies just across the border from Vallas -- is also reportedly barring EU citizens who are unable to support themselves from settling.