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Who’s afraid of the EU’s Largest Enlargement? Report on the Impact of Bulgaria and Romania joining the union on Free Movement of People

Monday 28 January 2008, by European Citizen Action Service


The report, published today by ECAS is first to present a comprehensive picture of the impact of Bulgaria and Romania joining the European Union on free movement of people - one year on. The 50 page document by Julianna Traser based on 2007 data examines the EU’s fifth enlargement from the perspective of all 27 member states.

The report demonstrates, like the previous ones by ECAS, that even with enlargement, free movement within the Union remains at a low level. It concerns less than 2% of the population but is unevenly spread.

Tony Venables, ECAS Director, said on 15 January 2008 «this report ought finally to put to rest the myth of the Polish plumber. There is no need to fear the EU’s latest enlargement, any more than the previous one. Most emigration from Bulgaria and Romania took place well before accession and continued to involve traditional countries of destination in particular Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Restrictions based on exaggerated predictions of an influx of job-seekers or a deviation of mobility to countries opening up their labour markets proved unfounded. Transitional measures were taken after the horse bolted.»

The country-by-country analysis in the report shows that there are signs of a better spread of mobility and that the situation is now more settled, also taking into account the 2004 enlargement. It is time to address the real problems, by more appropriate and targeted means than transitional measures, which restrict the access to the labour market.

Only 10, mostly new member states, opened up their markets to Bulgaria and Romania. Amongst the countries that chose to restrict access to their labour markets, the most notable U-turn is that of the United Kingdom and Ireland, both switching from a liberal approach. The report suggests they should think twice and the other 13 member states should change their minds, as some have already in relation to the 2004 enlargement.

The report shows that labour migration contributes to growth rates, provides for more tax revenue than the negligible costs of social assistance and that it is generally complementing the domestic workforce. Remittances, for example in the case of Romania, benefit the home country. Member states, such as Austria and Germany, which insists on transitional arrangements may well loose out in the competition to attract more skilled migrants.

Whilst the transitional measures are legal, they run counter to European citizenship to which the European Court of Justice in a series of landmark judgements has given real substance as a fundamental right to equal treatment and free movement. How to make sense of European citizenship when workers face discrimination on the basis of nationality except in countries which open up their labour markets? This fragmentation of the labour market in space and time frame is bad for the citizen, and seriously weakens the image of the EU itself. With the European citizenship thus limited, the EU can have only limited success through initiatives such as the Year of Workers Mobility (2006) the Year of Equal Opportunities (2007) and the Year of Intercultural Dialogue (2008).

In this latest report ECAS presents the following recommendations:

(i) End transitional measures

Whilst transitional arrangements from the 2004 enlargement are tending to be phased out, the new ones in the case of Bulgaria and Romania have little justification. The report concludes: «Destination countries remain attractive for economic, cultural linguistic and historical reasons (including migration history), whereas other European Union member states, regardless of whether they opened or closed their labour market do not seem to be subject to major migration.» ECAS hopes that the Commission in its report to be presented this year on the future of the transitional arrangements for the two new entrants will come to a similar conclusion and recommend phasing out transitional arrangements.

(ii) Create «one-stop shops» for migrants

It was a finding, not only of ECAS, but more generally of the European year of workers mobility that there should be one-stop shops for information, advice and problem-solving. Such services should be based on local partnerships and should be interlinked to accompany migrants to prepare them better before they leave, to help them integrate in the host country and then return home. 80% of problems can be solved before departure. As this report shows, much intra-labour migration is short-term. There are often though too many competing one-stop shops, including at the European Commission level where a number of services need to come together.

(iii) Enforce EU and national law

Problems facing migrants do not require new laws, so much as better enforcement of those that already exist. The European Commission should take the lead, not only by starting infringement procedures against member states which fail to apply EU law, but also by more radically modernising and speeding up complaints handling, and setting mandatory time limits of weeks not months to find solutions. At the same time, member states must be encouraged to enforce their labour laws to prevent and penalise exploitation of migrant workers.

(iv) Make more use of EU cohesion policies and neighbourhood instruments to manage migration

Pilot projects under the year of workers’ mobility or other programmes show what large-scale partnerships to accompany migration could do. Some problems affecting communities and going beyond individuals mentioned in this report - the retention of passports in Romania, the threats of mass expulsion from Italy, or the children left behind in Moldova show the unacceptable face of migration and should never have occurred. With its cohesion funds and neighbourhood instruments, the EU does have the necessary resources, more of which should be directed to managing migration.

(v) Create more studies and debates

ECAS urges that this report of the situation across EU-27 should lead to further studies, which are currently lacking. Such studies should examine the phenomenon of intra-community migration from a comparative European perspective, which should on the one hand help overcome myths and fears related to migration and on the other give a reliable basis to shaping national policies. The recent extension of the Schengen free travel zone to 24 countries suggests that more attention should be paid in future to the relationship between intra-EU migration and external migration, particularly with neighbouring countries.

This report is being discussed at a meeting on 15 January in Strasbourg hosted by Jean Lambert MEP. ECAS hopes that this will lead to initiatives by the European Parliament and other debates.

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Who’s afraid of the EU’s Largest Enlargement?

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