Free movement of workers within the EU: State of Affairs

The freedom of movement of workers is one of the fundamental liberties guaranteed by Community law and directly touches the sector of the liberal professions. In that respect it is always interesting to have an overview on the current state of affairs with regard to the barriers placed by several Member States in order to restrict labour movement within their borders.

 At the time of the enlargement of the EU with new Member States from Central and Eastern Europe (EU 8: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia), and with Cyprus and Malta (May 2004), the Accession Treaty provided a system called the 2+3+2-year scheme”. The “scheme” was aiming at allowing EU-15 Member States to temporally restrict the access to their labour markets for workers from the EU-8. It provided that Member States will have to declare in May 2006, and again in May 2009, whether they would wish to open up their labour markets to these workers or maintain barriers in place. However, by the 30th of April 2011, these Countries are, according to the Treaty, to remove all of these labour restrictions.

 For the enlargement of January 2007 to Bulgaria and Romania, a similar system was put in place with respect to workers from these countries. According to that system, all labour barriers must be lifted by the first of January 2014 within the EU 27.

 The Major issue underlined by most of the EU Member States that kept/ are still keeping these labor restrictions is the fear that opening borders will have a negative impact on national economies through the arrival of “floods of immigrants” that would destabilize the national labour market. However, the European Commission argued in its report of February 2006 that very few citizens from the new Member States were in fact moving to the EU-15 States. As an exemple, it was highlighted that citizens from the EU-8 group represent less than 1% of the working age population in most of the western EU Member States.

 The EU-15 States (those who were Members before the enlargement of 2004 and 2007) can be divided into three groups with regard to their policies linked to the free movement of workers from the EU-8:

  1.  States keeping labour markets open without restrictions: United Kingdom, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Finland.
  2.  States that lifted progressively the restrictions between 2006 and 2009: The Nederlands, Luxembourg, France, Denmark and Belgium
  3.  States keeping restrictions after May 2009: Austria and Germany.

 Concerning the free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania within the EU-15 states, nearly all of these countries (except Sweden and Finland) have decided to limit the access of Romanian and Bulgarian workers to their labour market. However, as mentioned above, all of these restrictions should be lifted by the beginning of 2014.

 The Secretariat of CEPLIS remains at your disposal for any further information.