By Annemarie Kas
The concern voiced by Woolas has been present since 10 countries, including Poland, joined the bloc in 2004. Under the terms of the Eastern European countries' accession to the EU, Western Europe countries were allowed to limit access to there labor markets for up to seven years. The same conditions were applied to Romania and Bulgaria when they joined in 2007. Restrictions were lifted for Polish workers in most member states in 2007 (though they remain in effect in Germany). Spain, Portugal, Greece, Hungary and Denmark will open their job markets to Romanians and Bulgarians in 2009.
According to the enlargement agreement, all EU member states will have to fully open their labor markets to Romanians and Bulgarians by 2012, unless there is evidence of a "serious disturbance" to the labor market. Until then there are considerable differences in each country's restrictions. Many countries open their job markets in sectors with a shortage of workers, like agriculture and horticulture. The Dutch parliament is worried about increasing unemployment in sectors suffering from the financial situation, like construction and industry.
The fear that the arrival of Romanians and Bulgarians will lead to extra job losses is unfounded, the European Commission argues on the basis of research presented in November of last year. Economic migrants from countries which joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, such as Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, have not led to serious disturbances in the labor markets of other EU countries. In fact they have contributed to economic growth without pushing out local workers or depressing wages, says the Commission. The Commission statement released on Thursday encourages countries to remove the restrictions as soon as possible.
In the Netherlands too the effects of economic migration from Eastern Europe are "on average marginal", says Arjan Heyma of Amsterdam research agency SEO which studies the impact of Eastern Europeans on the Dutch economy. "Only in agriculture is there evidence of a slight depression in wages," he says.
The closed job market for Romanians and Bulgarians plays into exploitation, says Gerlof Roubos, director of the Association of International Employment Officers. "The crisis puts pressure on prices in the temporary employment world. It's then attractive to hire cheap Romanians and Bulgarians," he says. "Because the income of those who work here illegally is uncertain, they can't put up much resistance."
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