EU governments should lift their restrictions on workers from the bloc's newer member states, since they bring more gain than pain, Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said Tuesday.
Some EU countries are still hard to reach for workers from new member states
"Workers from new (EU) member states have satisfied demand in receiving countries ... without creating any major disruption to unemployment or to the salaries of native workers," Spidla said.
And since the free movement of people is "a fundamental right", governments should "lift their restrictions as soon as possible," the commissioner said.
Spidla made his comments while presenting a report showing that the EU's recent enlargement has not, as some had feared, led to a massive influx of Polish plumbers -- a symbol of cheap labor -- to the EU's 15 oldest and richest members (EU-15).
The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as Cyprus and Malta, all joined the EU in 2004, while Bulgaria and Romania followed in 2007.
The commission's latest estimates show that the share of nationals from the 10 countries that joined in 2004 and who have decided to relocate elsewhere in the EU has risen from 0.2 percent in 2003 to 0.5 percent in 2007, with most of them heading to Britain or Ireland.
The share of Bulgarians and Romanians now living in the EU-15, meanwhile, has increased from 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent over the same period, with most heading for Spain or Italy.
More benefits than problems
Such migrations have, on balance, brought more benefits than problems by satisfying demand and by meeting skill shortages in the receiving countries, Spidla said.
Officials in Brussels also noted that the arrival of workers from new member states tends to increase productivity and ease inflationary pressure, since these workers send part of their
salaries back home rather than spending it in their new country of residence.
And unlike many illegal immigrants arriving from Asia, Africa or Latin America, EU workers tend to enjoy regular contracts and thus pay taxes.
Restrictions remain in place
When the EU agreed to enlarge its borders, the EU executive in Brussels sought to allay the concerns of many by granting "old" EU governments the ability to temporarily restrict the influx of workers from new member states.
Such restrictions must however be abolished entirely by 2011 for workers from the eight central and eastern European countries that joined in 2004 -- and by 2013 for Bulgarians and Romanians.
At the moment, only Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Germany maintain some restrictions on workers from the eight countries that joined in 2004, while workers from Bulgaria and Romania still face barriers to entry in most EU-15 countries.
Germany should open up
Asked whether Europe's biggest employer -- Germany -- should now lift its restrictions, Spidla said the commission's report "shows quite clearly that all countries that have opened up (their labor markets) have found it to be a good thing."
The commissioner also noted that since migrant workers tend to go where jobs are available, the current recession would not lead to a major increase in the influx of such workers.
Governments now have until the end of April to communicate to the commission whether they intend to extend their restrictions. However, they can only do so if they can show that lifting them would lead to "serious disturbances" to their labor markets.
Poles meanwhile do make up the largest immigrant group in the European Union, followed by Romanians and Moroccans, an EU report said Tuesday.
Out of some 3 million immigrants that settled in the EU, some 290,000 were Poles, said the Eurostat statistics based on 2006.
Some 2 million Poles went to work in other EU countries since Poland joined the European Union in 2004. Poles working abroad have contributed to the ex-communist nation's prosperity, sending home more than $8 billion (6.32 billion euros) in 2007 while helping to cut the jobless rate.
About 40 percent of all EU immigrants were EU citizens migrating to another member state. The remaining 60 percent were from European non-member states, Asia, the United States and Africa, the report said. Spain, followed by Germany and Britain, saw the largest number of immigrants in 2006. Luxembourg had the highest rate of immigrants with 28.8 per 1,000 inhabitants.