Friday, July 8, 2011

Romania, Bulgaria demand full access to EU's labour market

Published on EurActiv (
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Published: 08 July 2011

The Bulgarian and Romanian governments have asked the European Commission to help them fully open the EU labour market to their nationals from 2012, Bulgarian news website Mediapool announced.

Starting in January 2014 – seven years after their EU accession – there will be complete freedom of movement for workers from Bulgaria and Romania.

Workers from Bulgaria and Romania currently enjoy full rights to free movement pursuant to EU law in 15 member countries – Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic.

But restrictions remain in place in 10 member states (Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, the UK and Malta) and typically require Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have a work permit.

In the context of the expulsions of Roma by the French authorities last summer, it became evident that Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are more vulnerable to expulsion than other EU citizens in that country, as they are still obliged to seek work permits before they are allowed to take up residency.

In a joint letter, Bulgarian Labour Minister Totiu Mladenov and his Romanian counterpart Sebastian Lazaroiu asked Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Commissioner László Andor to make sure that all limitations on the right of their nationals to work in other EU countries should be lifted by 2012.

According to Bulgaria and Romania's accession treaty, EU countries have the right to impose caps on their job markets for up to seven years after accession, meaning that all limits would be lifted on 1 January 2014. Bulgarian and Romanian workers already enjoy full access to the job markets of 15 EU countries, while restrictions remain in ten more (see 'Background').

The accession treaty foresees a review of the restrictions by 31 December 2011, when the countries that are still imposing limits must notify the Commission of whether or not they intend to keep them until the end of the seven-year period.

In this context, the authorities of the EU's two latest newcomers have asked the Commission to issue a report on the free movement of workers from their countries, which could serve as a basis for decision-making.

"We strongly believe that such a report would help member states which still uphold restrictions on their labour market for Bulgarian and Romanian nationals to take a positive decision for the restrictions to be lifted," the letter is quoted as saying.

However, it remains highly uncertain whether Sofia and Bucharest's efforts will bear fruit.

Just recently, the Netherlands restricted access to its labour market for all foreigners, including Bulgarians and Romanians. The Commission launched an enquiry into the legality of including the nationals of two EU countries in such restrictions, but later considered the measures to be in conformity with the EU treaties.

Moreover, upcoming elections in France and Germany make it highly unlikely that those countries' authorities will liberalise their job markets as Sofia and Bucharest demand. Experts say that no matter what the impact would be on the labour market, nationalist and anti-immigration political forces would gladly exploit such a hypothetical move, to the detriment of the ruling parties and coalitions in older EU members.

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