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Europe

EU Pressures Members to Open Doors to Workers

The European Commission has increased pressure on EU governments Wednesday to open their doors to workers from EU newcomer states, dismissing fears of a mass influx of cheap "Polish plumber" labor.

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New EU members still can't touch labor markets in most of the bloc's old states

The European Union's executive arm said there was no evidence of a negative impact on three EU states -- Britain, Ireland and Sweden -- which immediately let in workers from ex-communist states after the bloc's May 2004 expansion.

"This report clearly shows that the movement of free workers has not had disruptive effects on the labour market" of the existing 15 EU countries before the "big bang" enlargement," said EU Jobs Commissioner Vladimir Spidla.

Der tschechische Premierminister Vladimir Spidla ist zurückgetreten

Vladimir Spidla's Czech countrymen still cannot work freely in Germany and other EU states

"Quite the contrary, individual countries and Europe as a whole has benefited from it," he added, presenting a report on movement of workers over the last 20 months.

Most "Old Europe" governments have kept their doors shut to potential cheap labor from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia since 2004.

Curbi n g i n flux for seve n years

Klempner aus Polen gibt Pressekonferenz

"Polish plumber" Piotr Adamski tried to alleviate French fears as part of an image campaign

"Polish plumbers" has been used as shorthand by critics to describe the typical kind of worker who would arrive in western Europe able to undercut local rivals because of the relative poverty of the EU newcomer states.

Under terms of the enlargement, EU countries were allowed to maintain transitional curbs on workers from central Europe, initially for a period of two years but potentially for up to seven

years.

The 12 countries that decided to do so will have until the end of April to decide whether to lift the restrictions, keep them in place for a few years or make them more flexible, for example, by limiting them to certain sectors.

Austria , Germa n y keep borders closed

Polen feiern EU Beitritt in Warschau

Poles celebrated EU membership in 2004 but will still have to wait years before they can work everywhere in the bloc

Austria and Germany, which border many of the new states, have already said they will not be changing policy now. Finland and Spain, on the other hand, appear ready to lift the restrictions.

Others, like Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have not yet taken a clear public stance.

The EU commission did not make any specific recommendation to the 12 EU states that still have their doors closed. But its report made Brussels' position clear.

"We haven't seen any catastrophic tendencies" in the three countries that opened their borders, said Spidla, adding that new workers "have filled in gaps on the labor market" in Britain, Ireland and Sweden.

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