On 29 May France rejected the EU constitution by 55%, thanks in part to fears migrant workers such as the proverbial 'Polish plumber' would steal French jobs if the constitution passed. That is despite the fact Paris suffers a shortage of plumbers. Since the new Central and Eastern European countries joined the EU there has been barely a trickle of workers from these new member states into France. Most have gone to the UK or Germany. In an earlier post, In praise of foreign workers, I noted how after initial fears the large influx of these workers had been welcomed in Britain.
Now others too are promoting the free movement of European workers. In today's Daily Telegraph, Robert Rennie reports that the EU has been urged to give British welcome to Polish plumbers.
Euro MPs of every political persuasion yesterday called on all European Union countries to copy Britain and welcome Polish plumbers and other East European workers. Other EU member states, notably France, could learn from the example of Britain, where an influx of 100,000 Poles has only fuelled growth, the MEPs said.
French panic about cheap labour from the East is based on "scaremongering" and myths, according to the first study of the phenomenon since eight ex-Communist states joined the Union last year. The new report, presented in the European parliament yesterday, found that almost 500,000 Poles had now found work in the EU with the largest numbers reaching Germany, Britain, Italy, Holland and Ireland.
...The report was prepared by the European Citizen Action Service, a think-tank and lobby group for non-governmental organisations chaired by the former Union competition commissioner Mario Monti. It did not mince words about the yawning gap between French public opinion and reality. The report concluded that migration flows to France were "marginal".
...Unveiling the report in Strasbourg, the British Green MEP, Jean Lambert, said: "Far from being overwhelmed by Polish plumbers (or any nationality), we see workers from new member states filling jobs in shortage areas, doing work others won't do and making a valuable economic contribution." She was joined from across the political aisles by the British Conservative spokesman on employment in the parliament, Philip Bushill-Matthews.
Only Britain, Ireland and Sweden have allowed workers from Eastern and Central Europe free access to their labour markets. The other dozen original EU members have put in place so-called "transitional" curbs that may last up to seven years. They could best celebrate the European Year of Workers’ Mobility in 2006 by scrapping their protectionist measures. Meanwhile I recommend the ECAS report, Who’s afraid of EU enlargement? (PDF), written by Julianna Traser.