Spain gives tentative backing for no restriction of labour movement

Josep Pique, Spanish Foreign Minister

EU accession preparations and the thorny issue of the free movement of labour are rarely far from the headlines in the Czech Republic. And although the next round of accession talks are some months away, Czech negotiators are working hard behind the scenes to gain backing from EU member states for concluding several chapters of legislation this year, especially the free movement of labour. And it seems to be paying off, as Spain gave tentative backing on Tuesday to Czech hopes that restrictions will not be applied in most EU member countries. Nick Carey reports.

Josep Pique, Spanish Foreign Minister
On an official visit to Prague on Tuesday, Spain's Foreign Minister, Josep Pique, brought welcome news for the Czechs on the delicate subject of the free movement of labour. Two of the fifteen EU member states, Germany and Austria, fear that their labour markets will be flooded with cheap labourers from Eastern Europe following EU expansion, and are pushing for a transition period of up to seven years whereby citizens of candidate countries, including the Czech Republic, will not be able to work in the EU. The Czech government is dead set against these restrictions, as it says the free movement of labour is a fundamental freedom of the European Union.

Czech negotiators have already secured assurances from three EU member states, Ireland, Denmark and Sweden, that they will waive their right to a transition period for the free movement of labour, and although Mr Pique gave no guarantees on Tuesday, Spain's stance on the issue is promising.

One of the options available, Mr Pique told journalists at the Czech Foreign Ministry, is for Germany and Austria alone to seek restrictions, and for the remaining thirteen member states to apply the principle of free movement as soon as the Czech Republic joins the EU. Spain, he said, would push for this option.

Although Mr Pique did not make any declarations concerning Spain's final decision on the issue, the chief Czech negotiator with the EU, Pavel Telicka, is hopeful that some other EU member states can be persuaded to waive restrictions:

"We have three member states, so to say, on paper. I would dare to say that the situation is very promising in the case of one or two other member states, but I don't think that I am in a position right now to comment on that, and I think for obvious domestic reasons these member states might not be ready to declare their final position. Then we've got at least three member states, or maybe even four as of yesterday which will clearly introduce some measures as of the day of accession and the remaining ones have not made any decision yet, which are looking at the other member states to see how they will act, or will be careful not to declare anything and might just decide on the day of accession, so we'll just have to see."