'Who's afraid of EU enlargement'?
Far from being stampeded by hordes of unwelcome Polish plumbers, the European countries that opened their borders to workers from new EU member states after the Union enlarged on 1 May 2004 have benefited from immigration, according to a new report recently launched in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Based on labour market research from the last year the report, which was produced by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) and presented by ECAS Chairman and former Competition Commissioner, Mario Monti, reveals that most of the workers from the new EU members who moved to the Ireland, Sweden and the UK in the last year, took up employment in 'hard-to-fill' jobs and helped to provide essential services in sectors such as health care, agriculture and tourism.
France, the country in which debate about the supposed influx of plumbers from Poland played a large part in the public rejection of the European constitution, issued only 875 permanent work permits and 737 temporary work permits to Polish nationals in the period 1 May 2004 - 31 March 2005 (compared to Ireland, which registered 36,856 Polish workers between May 2004 and July 2005). The UK, meanwhile, managed to convince 120 Polish dentists to move to the country in the last year to address a labour shortage in this area, and plans to recruit 230 more. According to the report a training school has been set up in Warsaw to teach Polish dentists about the British National Health Service and perfect their technical and day-to-day English.
Speaking at the launch of the report today, Jean Lambert, UK Green coordinator of the employment committee, said
"This report presents a direct challenge to the myths of free movement. Far from being overwhelmed by Polish plumbers (or any nationality), we see workers from new Member States filling jobs in shortage areas, doing work others won't do and making a valuable economic contribution."
"They do this despite all the barriers put in their way and poorly understood and administered regulations that would drive most of us mad - or home! Member states should recognise that our workforce is our future and remove the barriers to free movement which treat too many citizens as a threat not an asset."
The report uses factual and statistical evidence from national statistical offices, Ministries of Labour, consulates, academics and experts. It recommends that the UK Presidency takes the lead in pushing forward the idea that the countries which implemented transitional arrangements to limit immigration from new EU member states phase out these measures as soon as possible. It also urges the European Parliament to organise a public hearing and for the European Commission and national governments to launch an information and communication campaign to provide objective information on immigration and labour needs.
Who’s afraid of EU enlargement? Report on the Free Movement of Workers in EU-25 [pdf, 37 S., 315 KB]
By Julianna Traser (Editor: Tony Venables; Co-authors of the revised version: Monika BYRSKA & Bartosz Napieralski)
Logo of the European Year of workers’ mobility 2006