Germany was wrong to keep labour market shut: minister

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Germany made a big mistake in failing until this year to open its labour market to Poles and citizens of other EU newcomer states, Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said Tuesday during a visit to Poland.

"Extending from 2009 to 2011 the transition period limiting the free movement of workers from new member states was, from the current perspective, a major error," Roesler was quoted as saying in the western city of Poznan by Polish news agency PAP.

"Over the past two years, many qualified workers have had to skirt the German labour market and are now employed in other countries," he added.

Germany and neighbour Austria were the last labour-market holdouts in the 27-nation European Union, and only threw down the welcome mat on May 1 this year.

After the EU's 2004 big bang expansion brought 10 mostly ex-communist states of eastern Europe into the fold, older members were required to open their labour markets within seven years.

Only Britain, Ireland and Sweden opted to do so immediately, however.

With 38 million people, Poland was by far the largest EU newcomer.

In the wake of EU entry, more than a million Poles are estimated to have left for Britain and Ireland.

Once feared by workforces in Germany and Austria, the proverbial Polish plumber is now being wooed as Berlin and Vienna seek to beat a shortage of skilled workers.

"On May 1, nothing happened. There was no huge wave of workers from Poland heading to Germany. We regret that, because we would have liked more workers," said Roesler.

Roesler, who is also Germany's deputy chancellor, said his country's economy currently lacked 140,000 engineers.

The German government is discussing plans for a recruitment campaign in new member states, he added.

Even before the labour market opened, Poland had a long tradition of labour migration to Germany, albeit in restricted sectors such as seasonal farm and construction jobs.

© 2011 AFP

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