It hasn’t attracted a lot of attention, but seven of the EU-15 have now thrown open their doors to the free movement of labor from the new member states (NMS).
A bit of background: when the NMS joined in 2004, the EU-15 gave themselves the right to keep the walls up for up to seven years. The rather complicated agreement required the 15 to review their policies after two and again after five years.
Three countries — Britain, Ireland, and Sweden — decided to just admit people from the NMS. Britain and Sweden placed no restrictions; Ireland put in a modest one that emigrants would not be eligible for benefits for their first two years. (Because Ireland still thinks it’s a poor country? No idea.) Everyone else hunkered down behind walls of varying height.
So, the two-year review deadline came last month. And, lo and behold, four countries — Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland — decided that they could live just as dangerously as the Swedes and the Brits. These four opened the doors effective May 1.
A couple of thoughts on this.
One, it’s seven out of fifteen, but in terms of population it’s still less than 1/3 of the EU-15. Three of the Big Four still have the walls up.
(In fairness, it has to be said that Germany has managed to admit several hundred thousand workers through a relatively liberal permitting system. But an ambitious young Pole or Czech still can’t just jump in the Skoda, drive to Munich, and start knocking on doors.)
Two, it’s interesting to note that none of the “frontline” states — Germany, Austria, or Italy — has opened up. Austria, in particular, seems determined to stay closed for a long time to come. So while ferryloads of Estonians will soon be crossing the Gulf of Finland, there won’t be many people commuting by car from, say, Gjor to Vienna.
Three, the opening only applies to the Class of 2004. New members Bulgaria and Romania will have to go through the process separately. The seven-year clock will start ticking for them in January 2007 (assuming they do get admitted then, which looks like the safe bet.) So, there will be a few years when things will be rather complicated. In 2008, say, a Hungarian may be able to work freely in Ireland or Portugal but not in Austria, while a Bulgarian may be able to go to Britain but not to neighboring Greece.
By (counts on fingers) 2014 it should all be sorted.
Other hand, the Turks will be coming over the horizon right about then. So maybe not.