How closing EU borders will impact all expats

2nd March 2004, Comments 0 comments

As the Netherlands joins the majority of the EU countries in limiting free entry to citizens of the new member states, will the rest follow suit and how will this impact on the various EU job markets? Natasha Gunn investigates.

France and Germany have been at the forefront of moves to limit the right to the free movement of labour for citizens of the 10 countries joining the EU on 1 May. Despite initial signs that the Netherlands would opt for a more open-door policy, the centre-right cabinet in The Hague made a u-turn in February and imposed restrictions on free entry to citizens of the new EU states for at least two years.

Taking France and Germany's lead, most EU countries have negotiated the right to place restrictions of up to seven years on workers from the new members to protect their own labour markets. The outcome in the Netherlands has left a lot of newcomers feeling let down as they had been led to believe that doors would open on 1 May.

*quote1*Dutch lawyer and an expert on expat affairs Patrick Rovers of Van Velzen C.S. said, "In mid February, the Dutch government reversed its decision to welcome 22,000 citizens from the new EU states into the Dutch market. Although the work permit requirement was still in force before the reversal, obtaining such a permit for the first 22,000 applicants would have been fairly smooth."

Italy, Spain and Portugal also look set to enforce a two-year restriction with only the Republic of Ireland giving the green light.

"Though Ireland doesn't feel that newcomers will disturb their local labour market," said Rovers, "They may still take steps to place restrictions should any real problems manifest after 1 May. Germany, however, is already looking at stretching the period of restriction to up to seven years with Austria likely to follow on."

*sidebar1*Rovers puts this all down to the still depressed economy in the current EU. "The Netherlands is a small economy and the Dutch don't want to make the labour market vulnerable to high potentials out of Eastern Europe. I don't think the Dutch will open up in two years either as they are likely to take the lead from countries such as Germany and France," he said.

However, Robin Chater, Secretary-General of the Federation of European Employers (FedEE) believes that the concerns of politicians in the existing member states are largely unfounded.

"What they should be doing is devising measures to ensure that citizens from the accession states will not be exploited or discriminated against - not excluded from the job market altogether," he said.

"A lot of European workers already work in the EU as seasonal workers under permit. As EU citizens many of these workers will be covered by the EU posting of workers directive and will be entitled to minimum employment terms.

However, employees are not covered by the directive if they are simply encouraged to travel to another country and are hired there," said Chater.

"Moreover, there is no statutory requirement to inform foreign workers from other EU states about their employment rights. If there was then exploitation by 'gang-masters' would be curtailed," he said.

Chater points out that there was not a rush to take up work elsewhere in Europe when Portugal and Spain joined the EU. "The only country where such workers settled in any numbers was France - and here they took up many posts that French workers refused to fill especially in the service sector," he said.

A significant proportion of workers from the accession states are highly qualified and, according to Chater, likely to fill a lot of gaps in the current job market without affecting pay levels or depriving current nationals of jobs.

The experience of German reunification has demonstrated how, even with the best political intentions and the existence of strong anti-discrimination laws, that the removal of free movement barriers can so readily result in the heightening of xenophobia in more affluent countries and thus discourage the inflow of skilled workers," said Chater.

*quote2*Though it is no

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