4th Dec 2021

Commission split over free movement of workers

  • Vienna lies within commuting distance from Slovakia and the Czech republic (Photo: EUobserver)

Deep devisions have emerged within the European Commission over the opening of western European labour markets to workers from new member states.

The commission is in February set to present a report on current restrictions by "old" member states to the free movement of labour from the central and eastern European states that joined the bloc in 2004.

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But the recommendations in the report are being heavily contested between individual commissioners.

Vladimir Spidla, the Czech commissioner for social affairs, last week presented a draft version to the college of commissioners, pressing member states to lift the restrictions.

The Austrian commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner is leading the camp against a strong recommendation to lift the ban, according to Austrian and Polish media.

"Blood was spilled" at last week's commission meeting, an EU official told PAP.

At the moment, only the UK, Ireland and Sweden have fully opened their labour markets to workers from the post-communist countries that joined the EU in May 2004.

Other "old" member states had introduced a two-year ban, and are supposed to announce by the end of May this year whether they will prolong the ban for another three years.

Finland, Spain and Portugal are expected to lift the blockade, according to press reports.

But Austria, which currently holds the presidency of the EU, has reiterated it will maintain the restrictions, with its ambassador to the EU Gregor Woschnagg explaining on Friday (13 January) that Vienna lies within commuting distance of Slovakia and the Czech republic.

With Slovak wages lying at an average of 20 percent of Austrian wages, an immediate opening would lead to a "breakdown" of the Austrian labour market, he indicated.

Germany is also expected to keep its labour market closed for another three years.

From 2011, all old member states are obliged to ensure complete freedom of movement for labour, as enshrined in the EU treaties.


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