France has said it will open up its labor market to Poland and seven other eastern European states on July 1, a year earlier than planned. The move is timed to France's EU presidency.
Fear of a flood of cheap labor has stopped some EU nations from opening up
"I confirm that all the barriers will be lifted from July 1, so one year in advance," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters at a joint press conference with Polish President Lech Kaczynski in Warsaw on Wednesday, May 28.
France, unlike Britain and Ireland, exercised its right to temporarily exclude workers from Poland and other central European nations when they became EU members in 2004.
"I believe in Europe. I'm trying to show that here in Poland," Sarkozy said.
Move signals thaw in relations
Sarkozy added that France -- which takes over the rotating presidency of the EU from Slovenia on July 1 -- would also try to forge closer links between the European Union and Ukraine. Poland has been lobbying for closer ties between Ukraine and the EU and NATO.
Poland and France also signed an agreement for "a strategic partnership," signalling a thaw in relations that were cool under Sarkozy's predecessor, Jacques Chirac, in part because of differences over the Iraq war.
Sarkozy with Lech Kaczynski in Warsaw
Poland supported the US-led invasion in 2003, but France was strongly opposed.
Kaczynski said Sarkozy's move was a "very important decision ...we want to be a fully-fledged member of the EU."
Change of heart on transition period
"There are a few countries that have still not opened their labor markets," Kaczynski continued, referring to Germany, Austria, Belgium and Denmark.
Having opted for a five year transition period, France originally planned to open its labor market to the eight 2004 EU newcomers in May 2009.
Sarkozy's announcement leaves Germany as the only large EU member state that still bars central European workers. Under the terms of the EU's eastern enlargement, all member states must fully open their labor market to the 2004 entrants by 2011.
Workers from 2007 EU newcomers Bulgaria and Romania will still remain under a transition period regime limiting their access to the French job market.
Sarkozy and Kaczynski also signed a strategic partnership accord between aimed at reinforcing cooperation in the agricultural, energy and defense sectors between France and Poland.
EU leaders applaud the decision
The news was greeted positively in Brussels.
"I warmly welcome the fact that the French government has reconsidered the restrictions on free movement of workers in force since May 2004," Vladimir Spidla, European commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities told dpa news agency.
The migratory patterns of Polish laborers are much debated
"Fully opening the job market to citizens of the eight member states from Central and Eastern Europe will bring benefits to the economy and to the country as a whole," Spidla added.
Strategy was successful elsewhere
Officials in Brussels said the migration flows following the 2004 enlargement had had positive economic effects in those countries which did not impose restriction on the free movement of workers from new EU countries, noting that fears of a mass invasion of Polish plumbers had failed to materialize.
Britain, Ireland and Sweden were the EU countries that opted to open their markets to the eight 2004 newcomers right away. Since then they have been joined by Finland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.