According to the Commission’s “rigorous analysis of facts”, workers’ mobility from the new EU member states has had “mostly positive” effects on EU labour markets. The free movement of labour is “economically rational”, argues the commissioner in charge. The member states may hold a different view.
The Commission’s 8 February report does not provide specific recommendations. Instead, in the words of Social Policy Commissioner Vladimir Spidla, it is a “rigorous and careful analysis of the facts” pertinent to the labour movement trends within the Union. Through hosts of statistics the report reviews the first two years of a maximum seven-year transition period. It cites economic arguments against the two-year-old labour movement restrictions. The report is required under the 2003 Accession Treaty, which formed the basis for the 2004 enlargement round.
In its assessment, the Commission stresses that “immigration from non-EU countries is a much more important phenomenon” than the movement of labour within the Union.
The member states are free to decide individually whether to keep, abolish or change their approach to the issue. They have until the end of April 2006 to declare their decisions. To date, Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain have indicated their intention to remove the restrictions. Meanwhile, Austria and Germany have said that they will not be changing policy now. If a member state fails to observe this deadline, Community law automatically comes into force (which means that no labour market restrictions apply).
The controversy over the labour movement restrictions is tied to the much-disputed services directive, which partly governs the flow of labour within the Union. Opponents of the directive fear that relatively inexpensive workers from the east would apply the social and labour market rules of their countries of origin and would thus undermine the relevant standards in the west.