Seven Down, Eight to Go

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.

12 thoughts on “Seven Down, Eight to Go

  1. It’s worth pointing out here that far from trivial numbers of people are indeed crossing the Austro-Hungarian border to work, both under current arrangements, and of course as illegal immigrants.

    There are also quite a lot going east across it – ISTR when I lived there more people commuted from Austria to Hungary than vice versa.

  2. But an ambitious young Pole or Czech still can’t just jump in the Skoda, drive to Munich, and start knocking on doors.

    Chiming in with Alex here, I’d add that they do indeed hop in the Skoda or the Polski Fiat and start knocking on doors in Munich. They just work in the grey economy is all.

  3. It’s also worth noting that none of the original 6 founding members of the EEC – that’s the 6 countries that originally came up with the free movement of labour idea – have opened up yet.

  4. The debate in Ireland included nonsense about immigrants coming to live off our welfare system. The government dealt with that by not giving them access to unemployment benefits. Not a nice way of dealing with the propagandists, but there you go.

  5. @ Alex — My understanding is that Austria lets some Hungarians, etc., in, but mostly white-collar workers. Do I have that right?

    @ Doug, gotcha. I wonder what the numbers are like.

    @ Geoff, that’s a good point! One suspects that this is, as someone or other said, no accident.

    @ Colman, I didn’t know that, but I suppose it makes sense. Okay.

    Thanks, all. I love it when I post and then learn something.

    Doug M.

  6. Of course, Germany and, in particular, Austria, are continuing to receive migrants from one former communist state, i.e. East Germany.

  7. Doug, I think it’s rather easier than the political discourse suggests. There’s a very high degree of hypocrisy.

  8. I reckon portugal did the right move here.

    …our economy sucks so bloody much we’ll be the ones emigrating to Poland/Czech/Hungary/etc soon anyhow, so might as well be nice to them.

  9. Even though, as you say, Ireland added some impedance, we have seen alot of immigration, the most we have ever had so it seems this did not make much difference.

  10. It’s also worth noting that none of the original 6 founding members of the EEC – that’s the 6 countries that originally came up with the free movement of labour idea – have opened up yet.

    The Netherlands will open the borders in six months.

  11. While it was mooted that new member immigrants would not get social welfare in Ireland before the gates were opened to them, it has not infact come to pass. Apparently it would have been illegal.

  12. Good point, Richard. The traffic down the A9 from Thueringen every Monday morning–and back again every Friday–suggests there’s a massive number of people from eastern Germany working in the Munich area. I’m not always good at picking up on the accent, but significant numbers of service-sector jobs are also filled by people from the former GDR.

    Doug, the various building trade associations and unions probably have estimates. Though to get good numbers, what you’d probably have to do is a lot of spade work in terms of actual building projects versus what was declared as sales by German-staffed (i.e., mostly unionized) firms. Any of your corporate contacts willing to pay for that research? *g*