Two years after enlargement, 7 out of 15 "old" European Union member states have now opened up to workers from central and eastern Europe, writes Lucia Kubosova at the EU Observer: Western Europe remains wary of new member state workers:
Two years after becoming citizens of the EU, workers from central and eastern Europe will see a further four 'old' member states lift their labour barriers – in line with basic EU rules.
Greece, Spain, Finland and Portugal have all agreed to remove worker restrictions before the 30 April deadline. These countries join the UK, Ireland and Sweden – the only member states of the 'old' 15 which never introduced temporary measures against workers from the new member states.
The remaining west European governments will either keep their labour markets closed or open them gradually. "It is a real success, as a few months ago nobody would have expected a half of these countries to be without any restrictions and most of the others choosing some way to weaken them," commented social policy commissioner Vladimir Spidla.
Germany and Austria however are keeping full barriers in place, with Berlin and Vienna indicating they will make use of the whole transitional period – until 2011 – to keep the restrictions.
France informed Brussels it would "gradually" drop the barriers on a sector-by-sector basis and in line with agreements between the government, employers and trade unions.
Denmark is also planning to relax its existing restrictions and phase them out completely in the next three years, with the national authorities promising to "take steps to help enterprises recruit foreign workers to sectors that experience a shortage of labour."
A similar cherry-picking method will be used by Luxembourg and Belgium, which reported they would make the work permit procedure more flexible in certain sectors or occupations.
Italy increased a quota for foreign workers from 85,000 to 170,000 with statistics showing that previous quotas were not filled in the past.
The Netherlands postponed a final decision on the issue until the end of this year. The government has suggested opening up the country's labour market but parliament still has to make a decision.
The European Commission has urged all "old" member states to lift their national restrictions, arguing that the May 2004 enlargement has not resulted in an overwhelming influx of new workers or increased unemployment among home citizens.
Only in Ireland and Austria do nationals from new EU member states represent more than one percent of the working age population, hitting 3.8 percent and 1.4 percent in the two countries respectively.