Romanians and Bulgarians have gained the right to work in all of the EU's 28 member states. Some have expressed fears of an influx, but the European Commission has said it expected "no major increase" in immigration.
The European Commissioner for employment, Laszlo Andor, sought on Wednesday to allay concerns that the lifting of employment restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians would lead to a wave of immigration, particularly to the bloc's more prosperous member states.
"There are over three million people from Bulgaria and Romania already living in other member states and it is unlikely that there will be any major increase following the ending of the final restrictions," a statement released by the employment commissioner said.
"In hard times, mobile EU citizens are all too often an easy target," Andor added.
At the same time, though, he expressed understanding for some of the concerns expressed in other members states in recent weeks.
"The commission does recognize that there can be local problems created by a large, sudden influx of people from other EU countries into a particular city or region," Andor said.
"They can put a strain on education, housing and social services. The solution is to address these specific problems - not to put up barriers against these workers."
Entry under restrictions
When Romania and Bulgaria entered the European Union in 2007 - becoming the bloc's two poorest member states - restrictions remained on their citizens' seeking work in the previously established EU states. By the end of last year, 19 of the bloc's other 26 countries had already lifted such restrictions. However, some of Europe's strongest economies, including Germany, Britain and France were not among them.
In Germany, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, the Christian Social Union, recently sounded the alarm about a possible increase in "social benefits fraud" as a result of the lifting of the restrictions.
Merkel, though, has played down such fears, with her spokesman, Steffen Seibert noting that "the free movement of persons is also a chance for the Germans and Germany."
The state secretary for migration, refugees and integration in Chancellor Merkel's new government, Aydan Ozoguz, argued that "by saying that all people from Bulgaria and Romania are poor and come here only to get benefits, we just ignore the numerous highly qualified people who work here, for instance as doctors and nurses."
The Federation of German Industry (BDI) has also declared its support for the changes, saying this was necessary to plug a demographic gap in a country with an aging population.
Britain, meanwhile, has adopted a series of measures designed to limit access to social programs for other EU citizens living in the country. This includes a three-month waiting period before a new arrival can claim jobless benefits.
pfd/tj (dpa, AFP)