Some of the EU's strongest and wealthiest 'old' member states continue to restrict access to their labour markets by workers from Eastern Europe. Germany and Austria are the only member states, however, which have voiced their intention to block access to their labour markets until the end of 2011.

The first two-year period specified in the 2+3+2-year scheme expired on 30 April 2006. The member states have to declare themselves again on this issue in May 2009.

If Romania and Bulgaria join the EU on 1 January 2007, their citizens will be subject to a 2+3 scheme. This means that all labour movement restrictions between the EU's future 27 member states will be lifted by 1 January 2012, only eight months after the transitory measures for the EU-8 must phase out.

In an attempt to address the complex implications of the EU's 2004 enlargement, several member states from the EU-15 introduced 'transitional restrictions' on the movement of the labour force from the new member states. At the end of the first two-year transition period - on 1 May 2006 - the old member states remained split over easing access to their labour markets by Eastern Europeans.

Free movement of persons is one of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by community law (Article 39 of the EC Treaty) and is also an essential element of European citizenship. Community rules on free movement of workers also apply to member states of the European Economic Area (ie to Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

The relevant rights are complemented by a system for the co-ordination of social security schemes and by a system to ensure the mutual recognition of diplomas.

The Accession Treaty allows for the introduction of ‘transitional measures.’ Commonly referred to in EU circles as the ‘2+3+2-year arrangement’, this scheme obliges the member states to declare themselves in May 2006, and again in May 2009 and May 2011, on whether they will open up their labour markets or keep restrictions in place.

The Commission’s February 2006 report said that very few citizens from the new member states were actually moving to the EU-15 countries. According to the report, EU-10 citizens represented less than one percent of the working age population in all old EU member states except Austria (1.4%) and Ireland (3.8%).

At the end of the first two-year 'transition period' - on 1 May 2006 - the policies relating to the free movement of workers of the EU-15 states could be classified into four categories:

Keeping the restrictions in place for at least three more years (ie until 2009): Austria and Germany

Lifting the restrictions gradually, within the next three years (ie until 2009): Belgium, Denmark, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands

Keeping labour markets open / removing restrictions: Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom


Citing “pessimistic” labour market forecasts, Vienna continues applying the restrictions for at least three more years. “We do not have particularly high levels of unemployment, but the long-term forecast is not good,” Austrian Labour Minister Martin Bartenstein has said.


The government of Germany has decided to continue the transition period for another three years, until 2009. One main reason cited by Berlin is high unemployment, especially in the federal states bordering the Czech Republic and Poland.


The Belgian government, saddled with unemployment exceeding 8%, keeps sectoral restrictions on free labour movement after 1 May 2006. In the words of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, “a number of countries have already opened their borders. A number of others we know of are going to decide in the coming days and weeks whether to keep their borders closed for another three years. We’re not doing one or the other.”


Denmark will ease the restrictions after 1 May 2006, but some form of transitional arrangement is likely to be kept in place. “From 1 May 2009, Denmark will probably not need transitional arrangements,” Euro-reporters quoted a Danish Ministry of Employment official as saying.


In early March 2006, France’s government decided on a “step-by-step controlled lifting of the restrictions” on the free movement of labour from the EU-8 countries. The partial opening of the French labour market will start with sectors where labour is in short supply (eg social and health care, hotels and catering, transport and construction).

The country’s social partners are mostly in favour of the immediate lifting of the restrictions, notwithstanding France’s 9.6% unemployment rate. Some 20% of the jobless are in the 18-25 age group.


As a first step to slowly phase out restrictions, the Dutch governement opened, on 17 September 2006, 16 sectors of its labour market to workers from the EU-8 states. The decision concerns sectors where workers are scarce or where there has been a high percentage of illegal workers.

In a letter to the Dutch Parliament, Secretary of State H.A.L van Hoof wrote that the country will consecutively drop barriers also in other sectors, adding that once all sectors have been liberalised, the country might even drop its work permit scheme altogether. (See EurActiv, 18 September 2006)


In July 2006, two months after it was sworn in, Italy's centre-left governemnt, led by former Commisison President Romano Prodi, took the decision to end the transitory measures.

At the same time, the Italian Council of Ministers passed a decree granting legal status to a total of 517,000 immigrants, most of which could not apply for a residence permit as a result of a quota imposed by the former centre-right wing government led by media magnate Silvio Berlusconi.

Full article at: Euractiv