Meanwhile, that whole free movement of labor thing

So when the 10 new EU members joined in 2004, the old EU-15 came up with a clunky compromise about the free movement of labor: each old member could decide for itself, but they’d have to publicly review that decision after two years (2006) and then again in three more years (2009) and then after seven years, in 2011, they’d have to drop all restrictions and let the Poles and Hungarians in. (I say 10 new members, but really this only applied to 8, because Cyprus and Malta are so tiny that nobody cared to put restrictions on them. So, this was really about the “EU-8” — Poland and Hungary, Czechs and Slovaks, Slovenia and the three Baltic states.)

The old members came up with a bewildering array of responses, ranging from total liberalism (Britain, Ireland, Finland) to sharp restrictions (Belgium, Austria).

Then three years later, in April 2007, Romania and Bulgaria joined. The EU adopted the same two-three-seven rule for these new members as well.

The existing members — which now included the 10 new members — came up with a different bewildering array of responses. Some members that had been very liberal to the EU-8 closed their doors to the new two, while some that had been conservative reconsidered.

So we’re now at the point where you need a chart. Fortunately, our friends at the Beeb have prepared one! Here it is.

What’s interesting is that this is a snapshot, a complicated picture that’s on its way to becoming much simpler. May 2011 is less than three years away. And when all the EU-8 have complete freedom of movement, it’s unlikely that many countries will keep restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians.

But here’s a thought: will the EU keep the same rules for newer members? One might think not… after all, Croatia and Macedonia are pretty dinky. But waiting beyond them lies Turkey. So, almost certainly the seven-year rule will be implied on the new Balkan members as well, even if most members will promptly wave them in. In fact, all of these countries already have arrangements with the EU allowing some movement of labor.

(The interesting exception: Kosovo. In fact, movement of labor out of Kosovo has been getting harder, not easier. But that’s a story for another post.)

As for the effects of all this… well, that’s the big question, isn’t it. Watch this space.