Germany may block Eastern workers for at least three more years

The conservative-social democrat government in Berlin is voting, on 21 March 2006, to exclude workers from eight Central European countries from its labour market until 2009.

The ministers of the Merkel government will vote on a draft by labour affairs minister Franz Müntefering (Social Democrat),  which says: “If the existing limitations were to cease already now, the result would be a far greater influx of migrating workers, in particular in the lower-wage sector. This could result in unacceptable tensions on the German labour market.” 

Seven old EU countries (Britain, Ireland, Sweden, Portugal, Spain, Finland and France) have either not imposed restrictions for workers from behind the former iron curtain at all or have announced the lifting of the measures from 1 May 2006. By that date all EU-15 countries wishing to extend the so-called transitional measures must notify the Commission of their decision to do so. 

In blocking access to its labour market, the coalition led by Angela Merkel (Christian Democrat) is acting against a Commission recommendation. The EU executive has examined the labour markets of Britain and Ireland, which did not block access to workers from the east after the 2004 EU enlargement, and came to the conclusion that the two countries have profited economically from the decision. 

The Merkel government, however, has already laid down in its coalition agreement  that “at this time and given the developments in German labour market policy and economic policy, the extension of the transitional measures on the mobility of workers from the ten new accession countries seems to be necessary.” 

In fact the measures apply only to workers from the eight Central and Eastern European member states. The German coalition added that “the measures have protected the German labour market from increased migration.” At the time of the conclusion of this agreement, German ministers hinted that the government might try to extend the measures until as late as 2011, the date when they will have to be lifted for the whole EU. 

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