Eastern labor forces barred

  • 2004-04-29
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Laima Savickaite, a university student, was hoping to obtain the maximum benefit of EU accession this year and start her career in Germany upon graduation.

However, one after another, member states have started to throw up restrictions on potential labor from the East.
"After learning about the upcoming restrictions I truly felt deceived, as if I was being treated as inferior," complains Savickaite. "This is not what we were promised and not what we had voted for."
Indeed, the long-awaited day when the Baltics join Europe has finally arrived. Yet the widely anticipated hope of packing one's bags and moving to another country for employment still remains an elusive dream. Thirteen of the 15 current members have set up transitional periods during which citizens of new member states may not receive employment.
The main argument for restrictions involves economic threats such as labor inflow and contains Eurospeak such as "social benefit tourism." Spain, for instance, has forecast a limitation of two years due to its own high unemployment.
Germany said it intended to protect its labor market, which also has double-digit unemployment, and feared a flood of job seekers from Eastern countries.
With the exception of Great Britain and Ireland, most European jobs will remain unavailable for incoming countries for at least two years.
Some keep a right to extend this period up to seven years.
Curiously, EU members applied similar transitional periods vis-à-vis Spain and Portugal when the two joined the union in the 1980s. And studies showed that the restrictions served their purpose, though they were ceased shortly afterward.
The bases for fearing a tide of East European workers do not match up with the statistics, according to a poll by Lithuania's Ministry of Social Security and Labor. The survey showed that those likely to rush headlong into the foreign labor market make up only 1 percent of the population and are unlikely to threaten the labor market stability of Western countries.
Marius Greicius, a specialist in the international relations and European integration department at the ministry, says, "With the consent of the European Commission, old-timers might as well put up obstacles for certain professionals if [they fear that this will also] disturb the labor market."
The seemingly discriminatory measures have rankled new member states, and Hungary has even declared it might enforce analogous restrictions for Western employees. But Greicius says these statements are likely to be Hungary's way of negotiating and doubts such restrictions could be implemented.