Restrictions to worker mobility loom for incoming EU member states

Photo: European Commission

This week Britain's Home Office announced plans to strongly curb the number of potential migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania after those countries join the European Union in 2007 - a marked difference compared to the year 2004, when Great Britain left its labour market open to the incoming member countries including the Czech Republic and Poland. Jan Velinger spoke to political analyst Ivo Slosarcik of the think-tank Europeum, asking him what saw as the main reason behind the shift, as well as what the impact might be.

"Britain experienced quite a radical inflow of migrants which was not so important in and off itself but was important in the sense that the numbers greatly exceeded official labour government estimates, so that any estimates now may not be taken as seriously. Another difference is that in the last three years we saw a significant crisis emerge in the European Union between the old and new member states, and the tension between the old and new seems to be much higher. This too has decreased the willingness of the old member states to open their labour markets to the "new" new members who will join in 2007."

If the UK takes this route, do you think that it is likely that any of the other old members will take the opposite view, to open the market?

Photo: European Commission
"I think that the British position will be very important for the behaviour of the old member states, but we have to remember that the decision to open or not open labour markets is usually made by several 'actors' within the states, so the position of the United Kingdom will definitely be very influential for governments in the old EU 15, but we could still see potential surprises from the parliaments."

So far Poland and Slovakia have come out in favour of leaving their labour markets open, do you think that the Czech Republic, too, could take a similar approach to Bulgaria and Romania?

"I think in the Czech case the major reason [for support] would be historical links as well as sympathies towards the new members who are in a situation we used to be in three years ago. Along with that, we must also keep in mind that the Czech Republic wants and supports the opening of markets in, for instance, Austria and Germany for Czech workers. So, if we want to argue in favour of this liberalisation, we cannot argue at the same time to restrict access for Bulgarians and Romanians to the Czech labour market. Especially, since we also don't expect the numbers of workers arriving to be very high, although those, again, are just estimations and the reality can be very different."