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Document: The Trouble Over Job-seekers from Bulgaria and Romania

  • January 21st, 2007
  • Posted by 7thmin

bulgaria-romania-resize.jpgPolitical and social tensions have built up over the free labour market in the European Union since ten new countries, mostly from Eastern Europe, joined in 2004.

The trouble over the presence of thousands of mostly young workers has also been alleviated by widely acknowledged benefits obtained from their productivity and contributions to social life.

However the prospect of thousands more arriving to work, from Bulgaria and Romania, has caused political leaders in the pre-2007 member states to be cautious.


Complaints to mass media by aggrieved citizens, about the proverbial “Polish plumber” said to be taking over the industry, are now aggravated: these two countries are relatively poor so more of their citizens would want to move, and they vulnerable to criminal infiltration – mafia, kidnapping, drugs, prostitution.

The United Kingdom is the main one to alter course.

After adopting an open-door policy on the 2004 intake (along with Ireland and Sweden), it has imposed restrictions on entry from the two new countries, while transitional arrangements apply. Ireland has followed suit.

Restrictions normally will limit permission to certain professional or skills categories, or to seasonal occupations.

Under binding EU agreements all member countries must accept the other members’ nationals to live and work after the end of a seven-year transition.


The history of the accession of ten countries in 2004, and the two latest in 2007, is given in detail in a document published by the European Commission at Brussels.

It is available on the Europa website under Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities:

The following is a summary of it.

Enlargement – Transitional provisions


Free movement of workers is a fundamental right which permits nationals of one EU Member State to work in another EU Member State under the same conditions as that Member State’s own citizens.

During a transitional period of up to seven years after accession of 10 Member States to the EU on 1 May 2004 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia) and of two Member States on 1 January 2007 (Bulgaria, Romania), certain conditions may be applied that restrict the free movement of workers from, to and between these Member States.

These restrictions only concern the freedom of movement for the purpose of taking up a job and they may differ from one Member State to another.

References are given in the document to find out more.

General provisions

The transitional arrangements in the Accession Treaties of 16 April 2003 regarding the accession of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia, and of 25 April 2005 regarding the accession of Bulgaria and Romania provide that for the first two years following accession access to the labour markets of the EU Member States that formed part of the EU before the respective accessions will depend on the national law and policy of those Member States. In practical terms, this means that a worker from one of the Member States that acceded is likely to need a work permit.

National measures may be extended for a further period of three years. After that, an EU-Member State that applied national measures can be authorised to continue to apply such national measures for a further two years but only if it experiences serious disturbances in its labour market.

The transitional arrangements cannot extend beyond an absolute maximum of seven years.

Workers who are from the Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 or 1 January 2007 and who are subject to transitional arrangements must be given priority over workers from third countries.

Once the worker has obtained access to the labour market, he/she benefits from equal treatment.

Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 or on 1 January 2007 and whose nationals face restrictions in one of the EU-Member States that formed part of the EU before their accession may impose equivalent restrictions on workers from that Member State.

The Treaty of Accession of Cyprus contains no restrictions on free movement of workers. With regard to Malta, there is only the possibility of invoking a safeguard clause.

More detailed information can be found in the guides “Free movement of workers to and from the new Member States – how will it work in practice?” and “Free movement of workers to and from Bulgaria and Romania – how will it work in practice?”

The EURES website provides detailed updated information about the rules applicable in each Member State during each phase of the transitional period.

The briefing document then details provisions for the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004.

In short, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom liberalised access to their labour markets to permit citizens of the new member countries to come in and work; other countries already within the Union applied permits systems sometimes with special provisions, e.g. for professional or skills credentials, or quotas.

Accession 1 January 2007
First phase 1.1.07 – 31.12.08
Second phase 1.1.09 – 31.12.11
Third phase 1.1.12 – 31.12.13

First phase

EU-25-Member States (those joingin before 2007) are not obliged to notify their decision on restricting, or not, access of Bulgarian and Romanian workers to their labour markets to the European Commission. In the interests of transparency, however, the European Commission has asked Member States for information on the details of the national measures, if any.

The following shows the decisions of EU-25-Member States regarding opening or restricting access of Bulgarian and Romanian workers to their labour markets for the first phase:

Open – Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden.

Restrict – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Italy (Italian arrangements deemed a “partial opening” of the labour market).

Picture: Welcoming banner to Bulgaria and Romania posted on the Berlaymont headquarters building of the EU in Brussels; EC Audiovisual