TALLINN - The debate on the EU labor market arose again last week, with three more countries announcing their intention to place restrictions on citizens from the 10 new member states who attempt to find employment. U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair told the British Parliament last week that the government was considering restricting benefits to migrant workers, echoing previous statements from Sweden and the Netherlands.
Should these three countries implement curbs on migrant workers from the soon-to-be East European EU members, Ireland would remain the only member state without restrictions.
The issue is particularly sensitive in acceding countries, where residents have long regarded the free movement of labor as one of the prime benefits of joining the economic bloc.
Most member states have already adopted restrictions barring any uncontrolled influx of labor into domestic markets, despite the fact that many surveys show that poorer East Europeans do not intend to move West in search of better jobs and state-financed benefits.
Current EU law allows member states to impose restrictions for two years, with the possibility of extending them for a maximum of seven. Those states that do not impose them now may do so later if they feel their markets have been affected by an influx of workers from new member countries.
Writing in response to an article in the Aripaev daily, U.K. Ambassador to Estonia Nigel Haywood clarified Blair's position, saying the government would not tolerate EU residents working illegally in Britain and living off its social benefits.
"We will take strong action to stop this happening. Those who are in work should pay tax and national insurance. Those looking to work in the black economy will not be welcome," wrote Haywood.
Sweden has yet to make a final decision on the issue. Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts, who spoke with his Swedish counterpart Goran Persson on the topic, told Estonian Radio, "Restricting any kind of freedoms will not in the final count benefit either side, or even Europe as a whole. As our surveys demonstrate, there is no reason to fear a mass movement of labor. Previous EU enlargements have demonstrated the same as well."