Europe's newest expats

22nd February 2005, Comments 0 comments

Last May the European Union expanded from 15 to 25 member countries. Nine months on Sarah Morris finds out what the newcomers think of life in the club.

When 10 new countries joined the EU from the central and east of Europe the media trumpeted the true end to the Cold War. Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joined hands with his Polish counterpart on the bridge between their two countries - a gesture symbolising the burial of years of conflict between neighbours in this continent. The 'new' EU countries organised everything from fireworks and music to dancing and tree-planting as they looked forward to the era ahead.

EU membership promised so much

Nine months on, though, for many the so-called Big Bang is proving something of a damp squib since one of the EU's founding principals, the freedom to look for work anywhere within its member states, is not a reality.

All the 'old' EU countries, bar the UK, Sweden and Ireland, are retaining working restrictions on citizens from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia – on all the new members apart from Cyprus and Malta – for at least the next two years.

Poor relations

"Nothing has really changed since 1 May," complains Andrea Kiss, a 28-year-old Hungarian who has been waiting five months for a work permit to work as a secretary in Marbella in Spain. "We're the poor relations of the EU, without the same rights."

Kiss is typical of the kind of new EU worker that the Commission predicted would look for work in the existing EU countries – young, educated and a woman. A qualified translator, Kiss found a company that was keen to take her on because she speaks Spanish, Italian, English and Hungarian. However, in order to hire her, the company must obtain a certificate from the Job Office, stating that no Spaniard or 'old' EU worker who is unemployed could do the job.

"I think in the end, I'll get the work permit, but the company has had to describe the profile very carefully, saying it's necessary that the person speaks Hungarian and Italian," says Kiss.

Polish Malgorzata Bartyzel believes she risked losing a European Commission-funded Marie Curie research fellowship, to work for Philips in Eindhoven, through similar work permit rules in the Netherlands.

*quote1*"I was expecting to get the documents on 1 May and it took two months longer, three months in all," she says. "It was very frustrating and ridiculous. Philips had to wait for confirmation that no Dutch person could do the job. In this case, only a foreigner was eligible for my salary."

Despite the continued restrictions, though, 25-year-old Bartyzel is nevertheless conscious that Poland's accession to the EU has already given her opportunities previous generations in her country did not enjoy. Programmes like the Marie Curie Research Fellowship are designed to encourage the sharing of science and research between different countries, and the European Commission is particularly keen to ensure the potential of women from the Eastern and Central European countries is properly developed.

Last year, a report chaired by the President of the Estonian Parliament Professor Ene Ergma concluded that women scientists in ex-communist countries had been highly educated but were often employed in areas where R&D expenditure was lowest and usually failed to reach the summit of their professions.

New opportunities

Bartyzel looks well on her way to the summit of her career in material sciences – she was selected by Philips to research polymers after finishing a double Masters in Muenster in Germany through the EU scheme Socrates. She researched her thesis in Munich at the electrical company Osram GmbH.

"I chose Germany because it's advanced technologically," she says.

"In Poland, there isn't as much funding in big industry."

"Afterwards, I would have liked to have looked for a full-time post in Germany but getting a work permit is really complicated, so I didn't even want to try."

Europe's doors still closed to thousands of new expats

Germany, which along with its a

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