Spain has won authorisation from the European Commission to keep its labour market closed to workers from Romania until the end of 2013. But the expiration at the end of this year of restrictions by all member states on Romanian and Bulgarian workers is prompting anxious debate across Europe.
The Commission on 20 December authorised Spain to maintain its temporary restrictions on Romanians seeking work in Spain, in recognition of “serious disturbances” in Spain’s labour market. Eight other member states – Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – also maintain some restrictions against workers from Romania or Bulgaria, both of which joined the European Union on 1 January 2007. The two countries’ treaties of accession accepted the possibility of temporary restrictions on access to the labour markets of the other member states.
László Andor, the European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said: “I strongly believe that free movement of workers should be promoted and that restrictions on it are not the answer to high unemployment. However, Spain’s labour market has been very badly hit by the crisis and the Commission has therefore agreed to this temporary measure.”
Spain is unusual in that it had opened its labour market fully to Bulgarians and Romanians, but later sought a temporary re-imposition of restrictions in the summer of 2011, valid through to the end of 2012. These temporary restrictions have now been prolonged by a year, with Spain obliged to report to the Commission every three months on the state of its labour market.
These restrictions constitute derogations from the free movement of people, a fundamental freedom under EU law, and always require not only an explicit basis in EU law but also an authorisation from the Commission. The possibility of imposing restrictions will end entirely on 31 December 2013, when all limits on workers from the two countries expire.
Influx from the east?
This impending deadline has prompted renewed debate about influxes of citizens from the newer member states of central and eastern Europe, notably in the UK and the Netherlands.
A debate in the British House of Commons in December suggested that despite the transitional controls, the number of Romanians and Bulgarians resident in the UK had risen from 29,000 in 2007 to 155,000 in 2012, and that this figure could triple once the restrictions on workers come down. The Dutch government, as well as local authorities in cities such as Rotterdam, have also been seeking ways to limit, without violating EU law, the number of unemployed EU citizens – primarily from Poland – residing in the country.
Partly in response to such developments, the European Citizen Action Service and the University of Kent in Brussels are today (10 January) launching an EU rights clinic focusing on free movement, entry and residence matters, as well as cross-border social security. A hotline will collect evidence of restrictive measures and dispense advice.