ECAS report: Feared labour exodus from the East a no-show

In a new report, ECAS says that while the widely feared labour migration flow from East to West has never come about, information on the post-enlargement rights and conditions of migrant workers remains sparse.

According to a fresh report by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) entitled “Who’s afraid of EU enlargement?”, over a year after May 2004 the EU-15 states apply four different types of immigration regimes:

  • restrictive, where EU-8 citizens are treated the same way as non-EEA citizens (Belgium, Finland, Germany, Greece, France, Luxembourg and Spain)
  • restrictive with a quota for EU-8 citizens (Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal)
  • general labour market access with limited welfare benefits (Ireland, UK)
  • Community regime fully applied (Sweden)

In turn, the new member states are also entitled to impose reciprocal curbs on workers from the EU-15 states. However, only Hungary and Poland have resorted to this to date.

Having analysed labour market data from 20 member states (Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain have failed to provide official figures), ECAS has found, among others, that 

  • Poland, the largest new member state, has the most nationals abroad
  • the non-restrictive approach of Ireland, the UK and Sweden has attracted significantly more migrants than in the pre-enlargement days
  • the member states with restrictive regimes risk an expansion of the black labour market, the actual scale of which remains hard to estimate
  • alongside “brain drain”, “youth drain” has become a major concern for some of the EU-8 states
  • to date, only “fragmented information” has been made available by Eurostat and the national statistical offices on the labour market impact of enlargement and the “results” of the transitional measures
  • the practical issues of residing and working abroad are hardly known to the member states’ citizens. Confusion reigns over the rights and conditions of entry and residence
  • ECAS quotes analysts as saying that “employment restrictions have little impact 
    on actual migration from the new member states, but they answer domestic political 
    concerns in the context of slowing economies, high unemployment and anti-immigration 

"The scaremongers who had predicted a large influx of cheap labour from Central and Eastern Europe have been proved wrong," said ECAS Director Tony Venables at a news conference.

"'Top-down' campaigns are no solution to combat the lack of information since they do 
not leave room to creative discussion and exchange of views. In its previous reports, 
ECAS already called for public debates and public hearings on the issue of enlargement, which unfortunately have not taken place yet," author Julianna Traser said in the ECAS report. 

Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos has said that Madrid expects to completely open its labour market to the new EU countries in 2006, although a definitive decision has yet to be made.

Meanwhile, Austria aims to extend its labour market restrictions for another three years after 2006, Economy Minister Martin Bartenstein has said. Back in 2004, Germany said that it would keep the restrictions alive for the full 2+3+2 years.

Several new member states have been working to persuade those old member states where labour migration is less sensitive an issue to open their markets fully by 2006.

Among the numerous implications of the May 2004 enlargement of the EU by ten new member states, the opening of the borders and the projected flooding of the EU-15 labour markets with cheap Eastern workforce has generally been perceived as the most worrying. With the memories of a divided Europe weighing heavy on the minds of the public both in the East and the West, the accession of ten new countries - eight of them post-Communist - was feared to unleash a massive migration flow. 

Fuelling these public fears further has been the prospect of the EU's future enlargement, with candidates as big and poor as Turkey waiting in the wings. While the exodus of workers from the East never happened, most member states have been holding on to their respective labour market emergency brakes, if only in light of Turkey's candidacy.

To ward off crises in their respective labour markets, several old EU member states agreed to introduce "transitional measures" which placed restrictions on the free movement rights of the "newcomers" (the citizens of Cyprus and Malta were exempted, ie no such measures applied to them). 

These "transitional measures" derive from Articles 1-6 of EEC Regulation No 1612/68 on the freedom of movement of workers within the Community. They apply to citizens of the 8 new member states (EU-8) who wish to enter into employment agreements with employers in the EU-15 (again, the self-employed, the students, the tourists and the pensioners are exempted).

During the "transitional period", which lasts a maximum of seven years (ie until 2011), the EU-15 states may maintain their respective national rules or bi- and multilateral agreements with regard to their labour markets. Under the so-called 2+3+2 years scenario, all EU-15 states apply national measures between 2004 and 2006. Following a non-binding review by the Commission of the European labour market situation in 2006, each old member state will have the right to either continue applying its national measures (after having notified the Commission) or to adopt the relevant EU provisions. By 2009, all national measures relating to labour market access should be phased out, except in cases where the unrestricted movement of labour may cause disturbances (or the threat thereof) in the local labour market. The year 2011 should witness the elimination of all related transitional measures.

According to estimates, the aggregate migration potential of the EU-8 states is around 1% of their current population. However, the actual migration figures show that the level of migration from the EU-8 to the EU-15 states fell below 1%, while only a "very marginal number of western workforce took advantage of the Central European market".

The main destinations for migrant EU-8 workers were Ireland and the UK, while at the same time the "intra-EU-8 movement" was the most marked among the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia.

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