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Europe – EU urges removal of labour restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians

20 February 2012

The nine European member states that currently still have labour restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian workers in place have been asked to remove them as the European Commission seeks to liberate the labour market. The EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Laszlo Andor, confirmed this in Brussels on Friday when the Council met to discuss various employment and social inclusion issues.

The debate on transitional arrangements on free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania ranked highly in Friday’s meeting. Mr Andor said that in the absence of any strong arguments that would justify the restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers, the remaining nine EU countries should lift these curbs to liberalise the market before the end of 2013.  

Out of the 27 EU member states, nine still have restrictions in place that are to last until 31 December 2013. These countries include Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, and the UK.

Bulgaria and Romania signed an EU accession agreement in 2005 which gave all EU member states the right to impose labour restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians for a period of up to seven years. Since then 16 countries have lifted these restrictions, most recently Italy on 1 January 2012. 

"The Commission will present an overview of the implementation of the transitional measures by the Member States that will continue to impose restrictions to workers from Romania and Bulgaria until 31 December 2013. The final third phase of the transitional arrangements on free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania started on 1 January 2012," the EU said in a statement after Friday's sitting of the Council of EU Employment and Social Policy Ministers.

"Nine Member States notified the Commission before 31 December 2011 of their decision to continue to apply restrictions and provided an explanation with arguments and data of serious labour market disturbances or threat thereof," the statement said.

However, Mr Andor argues that the arguments provided by the nine member states do not appear convincing, as the Bulgarian National Radio reported. Although the EU Commission is strongly advocating the removal of these labour restrictions, it cannot force the countries to do so until the expiration of the transition period in 2013.

Some countries have eased restrictions, such as Germany which now allows skilled workers and seasonal workers from Bulgaria and Romania to work in the country without a work permit, while others still advocate tight regulations. 

In The UK for instance, employers who hire Romanians and Bulgarians must apply for work permits as well as an "accession worker card". Low-skilled workers in the UK are also restricted to existing quota schemes in the agricultural and food processing sectors whereas skilled workers can work if they qualify for a work permit, or under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme.

The controversial Dutch far-right leader, Geert Wilders, stated last week that he supported the idea of Romania and Bulgaria leaving the EU altogether. He added, “Of course this is not possible as we do not have a majority in Parliament and these countries [Romania and Bulgaria] are already members of the [European] Union.”

Meanwhile politicians in Bulgaria and Romania have repeatedly called for the nine EU countries to remove “unjustified” labour restrictions.

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