FAQ on the Commission's free movement of workers report
European Commission - MEMO/06/64 08/02/2006
Brussels, 8th February 2006
What does the report contain?
The Commission's report contains information on any administrative, legal or technical issues observed in the imposing the restrictions and will also has a statistical element, showing labour flow information.
Why has it been published?
The report is required under the 2003 Accession Treaty, which formalised the EU's enlargement by 10 new Members.
Can it influence whether EU countries decide to maintain restrictions?
The individual EU-15 Member States decide whether to continue applying restrictions for the second phase of the transitional arrangements. This report is designed to give the state of play of the migration flows across the EU25 countries. It looks at the consequences of both imposing and not imposing restrictions, is based on objective information and draws conclusions from the information supplied by the Member States.
When does the decision on whether to keep restrictions have to be made?
Member States have until April 30 2006 to communicate to the Commission whether they wish to retain restrictions. If a Member States chooses not to communicate any proposed restrictions before April 30, 2006, Community law comes into force for that Member State (in other words, no restrictions apply).
How long can restrictions remain in place?
If a State wishes to maintain restrictions on access to its labour market, this will apply for the period from May 2006 to 30 April 2009. Thereafter, they could be renewed for a further, final period of two years, but only if there is evidence that labour flows had disrupted (or were threatening to disrupt) a country's labour market. For more information, see the 'Legal Framework' sheet below.
Why does the Commission consider it important that Member States drop the transitional arrangements restrictions?
Freedom of movement is a right for every EU worker and is one of the four fundamental freedoms of the European Union. Also, at the signing of the Accession Treaty, all EU-15 Member States undertook to move as quickly as possible towards the full application of the acquis communautaire (EU law) on free movement of workers.
Who imposed restrictions during the 1 May 2004-30 April 2006 period?
Sweden and Ireland decided not to apply any restrictions on access to their labour market by workers from the Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004.
The UK decided not to apply any ex-ante restrictions on access to its labour market but adopted a Worker's Registration Scheme.
Under this scheme workers from 8 of the Member States that joined the EU (all except Cyprus and Malta) must register with the UK Home Office within 30 days of starting their employment in the UK.
The remaining EU-15 Member States informed the Commission that they would for the time being, maintain their work permit system, albeit with some modifications.
Denmark decided to issue work permits to nationals from 8 of the Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004, on condition that their work is full-time and governed by a collective labour agreement. There is no need to satisfy a labour market test, but the applicants must also be granted a residence permit before starting their employment in Denmark.
The Netherlands adopted a two-fold procedure. A traditional full work-permit system, including a labour market test, applies for most sectors, but a number of sectors and occupations have been exempted from this regular procedure. If the exemption applies, a work permit can be granted within two weeks without the need for a labour market test. The list of exempted sectors and occupations is reviewed on a three-monthly basis.
France decided to maintain a work permit system but not for example, for work in the research sector.
Belgium, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg and Spain also decided to maintain a traditional work permit system.
Italy decided to keep its work permit system but has issued a special entry quota for workers from the 8 Member States in question.
Legislation in Portugal also provides for a quota system.
Germany and Austria maintained a work permit system, albeit with some modifications. Both countries have also notified the Commission that they are making use of the provision set out in the Accession Treaty which allows them to apply restrictions for cross-border services in certain sensitive sectors, involving the temporary movement of workers.
As for the Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004, only Poland, Slovenia and Hungary apply reciprocity vis-à-vis EU-15 Member States that are applying restrictions.
Legal Framework of the Transitional Arrangements ( 1 May 2004- 30 April 2011)
The Treaty of Accession of 2003 sets out transitional arrangements for free movement of persons in the enlarged EU. As a result of these provisions, the application of a part of the community law on free movement of workers across the EU-25 may be deferred for a period of maximum 7 years.
The 2003 Accession Treaty divides the transitional period in three distinct phases, according to the "2-plus 3-plus 2" formula. Different conditions apply during each of these phases.
The first phase of the transitional arrangements started on 1 May 2004 and will end on 30 April 2006. For this first phase the Accession Treaty provides that in order to regulate access to their labour market EU-15 Member States will apply national measures or those resulting from bilateral agreements. Such measures can be applied by EU-15 Member States to workers from all of the Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004, except for workers from Cyprus or Malta.
The Accession Treaty stipulates that before the end of this first phase, which is before the 1st of May 2006, the following actions must be undertaken: (a) the Commission must submit a report to the Council on the functioning of the transitional arrangements; (b) the Council must review the functioning of the transitional arrangements and (c) on completion of this review, the EU-15 Member States shall notify the Commission as to their intentions for the next period, which starts on 1 May 2006 and ends on 30 April 2009. The Accession Treaty specifies that in the absence of notification, Community law on free movement of workers will apply.
As for the second phase of the transitional arrangements, the Accession Treaty states that EU-15 Member States may continue placing restrictions on access to their labour market until the end of the five year period following accession, which is until 30 April 2009. Consequently, the Accession Treaty assumes that in the normal course of events, Community law on free movement of workers should apply for the EU-25 Member States from 1 May 2009 onwards. Nevertheless, the Accession Treaty allows an EU-15 Member State to continue with restrictions in case of serious disturbances (or a threat thereof) of its labour market, in which case restrictions can be applied for the final phase, which is the last two years of the transitional period (from 1 May 2009 to 30 April 2011).
As for the Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004, the 2003 Accession Treaty makes a distinction between their relations with the EU-15 Member States on the one hand, and their relations with other Member States that joined the EU on the other. As for their relations which EU-15 Member States, the Accession Treaty allows for reciprocal restrictions vis-à-vis EU-15 Member States applying restrictions. By contrast, the Accession Treaty provides that in principle, Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004 should among themselves apply Community law on free movement of workers from the 1st of May 2004 onwards. There are no transitional arrangements for workers from Cyprus. Malta is allowed to invoke a safeguard clause and keep its work permit system for monitoring purposes.
Further information is available at the following web addresses: