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Europe

Britain Reconsiders Job Rights for New EU Citizens

Tony Blair says his country may temporarily impose working restrictions for citizens of the new EU member states when they join in May. The UK previously pledged it would open its doors to the mostly eastern Europeans.

Following an apparent rethink by the British government on Wednesday, Ireland could find itself alone among European Union states in providing equal work and welfare rights to citizens from the new member states. Speaking during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated he was reconsidering earlier promises to allow unrestricted access to citizens from central and eastern Europe after they become EU citizens on May 1. "It is important that we recognize there is a potential risk from these accession countries of people coming in," he said. "It's precisely for that reason now that we are looking at the concessions we gave. If it is right that closing off those concessions is going to mean we deal with this problem, then we will do so." Blair's change of heart follows similar moves by Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands -- all of which, when the topic was first broached, had promised to keep markets open. By contrast, Germany, where unemployment is high and the welfare system generous, insisted when entry terms were agreed in 2002 on availing of a get-out clause which could mean the imposing of restrictions to its market for new EU citizens from central and eastern Europe until 2011. ( EUobserver.com)