Brussels, 1 January 2014
End of restrictions on free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania - statement by László Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
Today marks the lifting of the last restrictions on the free movement of workers from Bulgaria and Romania. From today, Bulgarian and Romanian citizens are able to fully exercise their right to work in all EU countries without a work permit. In fact, Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have already been free to work without restrictions in 19 countries that were not applying transitional measures and have of course been enjoying the right to travel and reside in all Member States since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007. As a result there are over 3 million people from Bulgaria and Romania already living in other Member States and it is unlikely that there will be any major increase following the ending of the final restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers.
The free movement of people has been one of the cornerstones of EU integration and of the EU's Single Market. This right is one of the most cherished by Europeans, with over 14 million of them studying, working or retiring in another Member State. In fact, free movement is the right that people associate most closely with EU citizenship.
The end of the restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian workers comes at a time of high unemployment and tough budget adjustment in many European countries. In hard times, mobile EU citizens are all too often an easy target: they are sometimes depicted as taking jobs away from local people or, on the contrary, not working and abusing social benefits schemes.
In fact, studies have consistently shown the benefits of free movement of workers for the economies of host countries. Mobile workers complement host country workers by helping to address skills gaps and labour shortages - in other words they tend not to take jobs away from host country workers. And because a greater proportion of mobile workers from other EU countries are of working age compared to host countries' populations they are more likely to be employed and are generally net contributors to the welfare systems of their host countries.
That said, the Commission does recognise that there can be local problems created by a large, sudden influx of people from other EU countries into a particular city or region. For example, they can put a strain on education, housing and social services. The solution is to address these specific problems – not to put up barriers against these workers. Member States can use the European Social Fund (worth over 10 billion euros every year) to help to deal with some of these local problems. From 1 January 2014, each Member State should spend at least 20% of ESF funds on promoting social inclusion and combating poverty.
The EU has put rules in place to facilitate the free movement of workers, to ensure that they are protected from exploitation and that host countries are protected from potential abuse of their welfare systems. Later this Spring, these are due to be further reinforced by new rules due to be adopted on the Commission's initiative by the EU's Council of Ministers and the European Parliament to require EU countries to both raise awareness about rights to free movement and to put in place redress mechanisms when workers suffer discrimination.
It is essential that Member States enforce their national legislation, notably through their labour inspectors, to prevent discrimination against or exploitation of workers from other EU countries. For example, they must ensure that their minimum wage rules are applied and that workers from other EU countries are not employed in the black economy.
The beginning of a New Year is a good time to look forward. I firmly believe that restricting the free movement of European workers is not the answer to high unemployment or a solution to the crisis. On the contrary, facilitating such free movement can play a role in tackling unemployment and helping to bridge the disparities between different EU countries. We estimate that there are currently some 2 million unfilled vacancies in the EU. This is why the Commission is improving the functioning of the EURESpan-European job search network and publishes the European Vacancy Monitor – so that everyone who wants to work in another EU country can be aware of job opportunities there. The European institutions and the Member States need to work together to pave the way for a job-rich recovery and create conditions for inclusive growth.