Index 
 Previous 
 Next 
 Full text 
Document stages in plenary
Select a document: :

Texts tabled :

B7-0731/2011

Debates :

PV 14/12/2011 - 20
CRE 14/12/2011 - 20

Votes :

PV 15/12/2011 - 9.9

Texts adopted :


Debates
Wednesday, 14 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

20. Freedom of movement for workers within the European Union (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
MPphoto
 

  President. – The next item is the debate on

– the oral question to the Commission on freedom of movement for workers within the European Union by Traian Ungureanu, Csaba Őry, Elena Băsescu, Iliana Ivanova and Marian-Jean Marinescu, on behalf of the PPE Group (O-000320/2011 – B7-0673/2011), and

– the oral question to the Commission on restrictions on free movement of workers by Stephen Hughes, Rovana Plumb and Hannes Swoboda, on behalf of the S&D Group (O-000323/2011 – B7-0674/2011).

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Traian Ungureanu, author. – Madam President, this is about an oral question and a motion for a resolution.

What I would say about both the oral question and the joint motion for a resolution is that they put forward two basic propositions. Firstly, that the restrictions for Romanian and Bulgarian workers on the European labour market should be lifted, as there is no real economic reason to keep them in place, and I quote here from a fresh report from the Commission. Secondly, the oral question and the motion for a resolution are asking for the states that want to exercise their right to extend the barriers to provide hard economic data in support of their request.

Since this whole debate was sometimes misunderstood or misrepresented, I have to state what the question and the motion for a resolution are not about.

Firstly, they are not about changing Treaties or any other kind of legislation. They only ask for legislation to be implemented with good reason and not implemented at all when there is no reason.

Secondly, the question and the motion are not about encouraging vagueness. On the contrary, they propose more transparency, which is to say that from now on, Member States should not be able to limit the fundamental rights of fellow European citizens by simply invoking a vague formula – by ticking a box. This sort of behaviour is neither rational nor legal: it is pure imposition.

For those who wondered whether Romanians and Bulgarians could really not wait for another two years, the answer is no. When the issue is your rights, sometimes even a day can be too long.

Finally, the question and the motion push for full European consistency. I therefore have to ask: why maintain an arrangement that allows goods and capital to move freely towards East European Member States while stopping East European citizens taking up jobs in Western European countries?

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Rovana Plumb, author. – Madam President, the right to live and work in another country of the Union is one of the fundamental freedoms of the European Union, and yet Romanian and Bulgarian workers face total or partial restrictions on their fundamental right of freedom of movement.

Transitional measures constitute a derogation from a fundamental freedom. Those transitional measures are counter-productive in terms of combating forced self-employment, undeclared work and irregular employment.

Eleven Member States still maintain partial or total restrictions, but this Parliament still does not know how many of those have requested the extension of the transitional measures for the next two years. Can the Commission tell us how many requests it has received? Can the Commission also explain on what basis its judgment is going to be produced?

At a time when racism, xenophobia and social conflict are increasing, it is of the utmost importance to guarantee social cohesion in the European Union through effective integration policies promoting equal treatment, decent working conditions and social protection, and not to use derogations from fundamental freedoms as a political weapon.

Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have the right to enjoy equal treatment just like other European citizens. This is also a way of ensuring fair competition between businesses and preventing any social and economic dumping. Workers’ mobility in the European Union should never be considered a threat to the internal labour market. Therefore, our political groups support the opinion that all these transitional measures should be abolished.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  László Andor, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, the free movement of workers is one of the fundamental freedoms, together with the free movement of goods, services and capital. It is a pillar of the single market and, for 50 years, it has contributed to making European integration a success. I know that the free movement of workers and the lifting of the restrictions in place are of significant importance to you and it is also important for the Commission.

As you know, the transitional arrangements aim at allowing Member States to prepare gradually for the full application of EU law on the free movement of workers. The transitional arrangements were agreed for a maximum period of seven years, in three phases. Each phase requires more and stronger justification from Member States if they want to maintain the restriction to the free movement of workers. We are approaching the third and final phase of these seven years.

In 2007, ten of the 25 other Member States opened their labour markets for Bulgarian and Romanian workers immediately. By now, this number has increased for Bulgarian workers to 15, and for Romanian workers to 14 Member States. Even in the Member States that still apply restrictions, several apply less strict conditions or simplified procedures in comparison to the conditions and procedures that applied to Bulgarian and Romanian workers prior to joining the EU.

According to the transitional arrangements, a Member State that currently still restricts the free movement of workers can only continue to do so for the final two years of the transitional period if it notifies the Commission before 1 January 2012 of a serious disturbance of its labour market, or a threat thereof. This restriction can last until 31 December 2013 at the very latest.

However, the transitional arrangements do not define what a serious disturbance of the labour market, or the threat thereof, is. As labour markets across the EU vary widely between Member States, each Member State will therefore have to assess itself whether it undergoes, or is threatened by, a serious labour market disturbance.

The Commission cannot lay down criteria that Member States would have to use. The Commission has made it clear though, that it expects any Member State that wishes to extend restrictions on labour market access to explain why it considers it is undergoing or is threatened by a serious labour market disturbance and to provide justification with data and convincing, pertinent arguments when notifying the Commission.

As the Commission stated in the report adopted on 11 November on the functioning of the transitional arrangements, it expects more than a simple reference to the unemployment rate. What is, however, important to remember is that the transitional arrangements do not stipulate that the serious labour market disturbance, or the threat thereof, must be caused by an influx of Romanian and Bulgarian workers.

What is also important to note is that a Member State only needs to send a notification within the deadline, without needing the Commission’s assent to the notification. In that case, national law on labour market access will continue to apply after 31 December 2011. Concerning the disclosure of a letter of notification, the Commission must, in accordance with existing procedures, consult in respect of each such request the Member State from where the notification originates.

In any case, the Commission will check whether the notifications were sent within the deadline, which means before 1 January 2012. If not, EU law on free movement of workers will apply fully.

At the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council earlier this month, I encouraged governments to consider with great care, not only in light of the situation of the labour market, but also on the basis of the facts contained in the Commission’s report, whether it is necessary to maintain restrictions on the labour market access of Bulgarian and Romanian workers. I reminded Member States to keep in mind that the transitional arrangements aim at allowing Member States to prepare gradually for the full application of EU law on free movement of workers and not at delaying its application until the very end of the transitional period.

Free movement of workers is one of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the EU Treaty and a strong symbol for all European citizens.

Apart from the right to work itself, working and living conditions are an important aspect here. Bulgarian and Romanian workers who have been admitted to work in a Member State – even in ones that still apply restrictions – benefit fully from the provisions of EU law on free movement of workers that grant the right to equal treatment with nationals as regards conditions of employment and work, including pay. The labour market and social situation has been analysed in the Commission report as well as in a specific chapter of the Employment and Social Developments in Europe review, a report to be adopted and presented on 15 December.

However, as regards, ‘irregular’ Bulgarian and Romanian workers, the Commission regrets that there is no detailed information or data about their number or social situation, which is precisely due to the hidden character of their presence in other Member States.

In its 2008 and 2011 reports on the functioning of transitional arrangements of Bulgarian and Romanian workers, the Commission has already underlined that the restrictions to free movement of workers do not necessarily have the expected impact of protecting the national labour markets. In some cases, the restrictions can even exacerbate the incidence of undeclared work, leading to undesired social consequences both for undeclared workers and the regular labour force.

The Commission will continue to develop and promote, in relation with the Member States, specific activities to fight undeclared work.

Finally, the Posting of Workers Directive fully applies to Bulgarian and Romanian workers who are posted. It defines the core of mandatory working conditions to be respected in the host country by companies posting workers temporarily to that country, in particular, with respect to maximum work periods and minimum rest periods; minimum paid annual holidays; the minimum rates of pay, and health and safety at work.

The directive thus provides for a significant level of protection of posted workers and avoids that working conditions in the host country are undermined as an effect of competition.

The Commission is currently preparing a legislative proposal which will aim to improve and reinforce the implementation, application and enforcement in practice of the Posting of Workers Directive. It will include measures to prevent and sanction any abuse and circumvention of the applicable rules. The adoption of the proposal is foreseen for February 2012. The incoming Danish Presidency will immediately start negotiations on this proposal.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Elena Băsescu, on behalf of the PPE Group.(RO) Madam President, I would like to begin by thanking all my colleagues from every political group who made it possible to include this debate on the agenda for the plenary session in December and not in January, when it would have been far too late.

This oral question with a resolution, which I initiated along with my colleagues, Mr Ungureanu and Mr Marinescu, is being debated at a crucial juncture when the labour market restrictions are being discussed.

By using an extremely vague phrase from European legislation, ‘severe disturbance in the labour market’, these states have simply split the internal market by violating one of the four fundamental freedoms.

Commissioner, new developments in the status of mobile workers from Romania and Bulgaria emerge every day that goes by. So far, the Netherlands and the UK have decided, for no reason, to extend these restrictions. I should emphasise that this measure has been taken at a time when the old Member States have an ageing population and a young workforce is needed so as to have someone to pay us our pensions.

I hope that the other Member States which have not yet announced their decision on extending the restrictions will follow the example of Germany, which has shown confidence in the professionalism of Romanian workers.

Commissioner, I wonder how some governments can use the argument of disturbances in the labour market when even employers and SMEs in their own country are asking for the restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers to be lifted. I feel that it is precisely the refusal of these governments to allow supply to meet demand that is causing imbalances in the labour market.

I wish to express again my regret that there are Member States which prefer to retain these restrictions, while inventing someone to blame and excuses to make to their own electorate for the economic situation which a section of the population are in.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Jutta Steinruck, on behalf of the S&D Group.(DE) Madam President, I would like to thank the authors of the questions and the Commissioner for his statement. The German Social Democrats are also in favour of mobility and the free movement of workers on the European labour market. That is an important and key fundamental freedom. Although the facts dispel all fears, the German conservative-liberal Government is also no doubt planning to refuse to allow all workers to fully exercise this fundamental right. I find that very disappointing when I look at other European policy areas.

In contrast to other countries, Germany has not made use of the transitional periods in order to make the German labour market fit for Europe. Time and again in Germany, I receive reports from colleagues from Romania and Bulgaria informing me of the methods being used in Germany. I can tell you that these are almost always bordering on illegal or are actually illegal. A further extension and a further denial of this fundamental right will only serve to promote fraud, undeclared employment and ostensible self-employment. It is not the influx of workers from Bulgaria and Romania that creates problems but the lack of fair conditions on the labour market. For us in Germany, these include the lack of a minimum wage and too little control of undeclared employment and combating of ostensible self-employment. Therefore, we must also put the principle of equal pay and equal working conditions for equal work in the same place into practice and introduce it in a uniform way at European level. Then, all workers within Europe will also be able to move around to work with dignity.

(Applause)

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Renate Weber, on behalf of the ALDE Group.(RO) Madam President, I have supported and do support European integration. I have supported and worked constantly for Romania’s integration into the European Union because I see the EU as one family, created to safeguard its citizens’ wellbeing, a place where everyone has the same rights, and discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. However, the reality is different from my vision of Europe. In a Union which is based on the freedom of movement, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens are being treated like second-class citizens.

Since our accession to the European Union and up until now, we have accepted the restrictions which some Member States have imposed on us, citing economic arguments which have very often had mainly political considerations underlying them. However, starting from 2012, the restrictions may be extended only if there are severe disturbances in these countries’ labour markets. In actual fact, the statistics made available by the European Commission last month are clear, indicating that Romanian and Bulgarian workers have had a beneficial influence on the economy of those countries. This means that there is no justification for maintaining the restrictions out of fear of an alleged ‘disturbing influence’ caused by the presence of Romanian and Bulgarian workers.

In these circumstances, in order to prevent Member States making decisions once again on the basis of political and populist considerations, I call on the European Commission to propose clear, transparent criteria for evaluating applications to extend or reintroduce the restrictive measures.

I welcome the announcement from the Belgian prime minister about lifting the restrictions on Romanian workers. I hope that it will be implemented and that this step will be followed immediately by all the other Member States which are still restricting access for Romanian and Bulgarian workers.

Workers’ mobility within the EU must no longer be regarded as a threat to internal labour markets, with it being the Commission’s obligation to monitor compliance with this principle.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Marije Cornelissen, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. (NL) Madam President, Commissioner, five years ago, Bulgaria and Romania became members of our Union. In their Accession Treaties, it states that all other Member States must immediately or gradually open up their labour markets to Romanian and Bulgarian workers. The final transition period is about to start, a period in which only those countries which can prove a serious disruption to their labour market can apply transitional measures.

There is now also a report – for which we are grateful to you – which suggests that those countries which did not introduce transitional measures have, in fact, benefited and that transitional measures have mainly negative effects. There is every reason, therefore, for all Member States to open up their labour markets completely to Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

Unfortunately, a number of countries have announced that they do wish to impose restrictive measures, with the Netherlands being the most enthusiastic proponent of this ‘worst practice’. If Mr Kamp, Minister for Social Affairs, has his way, not a single Bulgarian or Romanian will be able to enter the Netherlands. This has nothing to do with the facts. Not only is it completely ridiculous that it is precisely in the Netherlands, one of the richest EU countries with the lowest unemployment rate, that it is being claimed that the labour market might be disrupted, but there are also all kinds of studies – in the Netherlands as well – that indicate that these measures encourage exploitation.

Transitional measures mean sentencing thousands of EU citizens to exploitation, poor working conditions, fictitious self-employment and low pay. Transitional measures also mean that thousands of employers are unable to recruit the workers that they consider best suited to the work in their company. Transitional measures mean, as far as I am concerned, a violation of the right to freedom of movement and an infringement of the Accession Treaties if a country is unable to prove any serious disruption.

You, Commissioner, are the Guardian of the Treaties. I expect you to perform this role not merely in letter but also in spirit. Therefore, as soon as you receive the notification from the Netherlands, I expect you to put the examination and the facts to one side and say: ‘Dear Mr Kamp, enough of this ridiculous fairy tale’. If you do not do this, then the Accession Treaties will not be worth the paper they are printed on. The Netherlands is constantly reminding Romania and Bulgaria of their obligations, and now it is failing in its own obligation under the Treaties that it itself ratified.

If you let the Netherlands get away with this, then you are actually saying that domestic policy considerations come before the freedom of movement of workers. You are actually saying that the richer, old Member States can interpret the Treaties as it suits them, even if they then cause harm to their own workers and thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Ilda Figueiredo, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (PT) Madam President, it is not acceptable that Bulgarian and Romanian citizens continue to be discriminated against by certain European Union Member States in their access to the respective labour markets and, accordingly, we insist that it is insufficient to affirm that free movement of workers is a fundamental right of the European Union. It is necessary to guarantee that all are assured equal rights, that the directives of the European Union and economic policies create the jobs required for all, and that they guarantee the necessary socio-economic mechanisms to avoid any kind of social dumping.

Accordingly, it is time to end restrictions on access to the respective labour markets for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens given that, in many cases, these restrictions serve as cover for forced self-employment, undeclared work and irregular employment, which puts the rights of all workers at risk, including workers of the countries hosting the Bulgarian and Romanian citizens.

We know that the promotion of neoliberal policies is aggravating unemployment, precarious and badly paid work, and undeclared work, and hence social dumping is proliferating, the exploitation of workers is intensifying and a cultural melting pot is created that is conducive to xenophobia and racism. That is why we insist on the need for progressive economic and social policies and also on a committed fight against all discrimination in defence of equal rights and opportunities and with respect for the dignity of workers.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Jaroslav Paška, on behalf of the EFD Group. (SK) Madam President, the end of this year will see completion of the second phase of the transitional period for Romania and Bulgaria, during which transitional restrictions on employment in certain EU countries apply to both countries.

If the countries applying these restrictions wish to continue restricting the employment of citizens of Romania and Bulgaria, they will have to provide proof that opening their labour markets could cause serious problems on those markets. In terms of objectivising this process, it would be right and proper for the Commission to formulate the conditions that it would regard as acceptable from the perspective of continuing employment restrictions against citizens from other Member States. The correct behaviour of Member States in applying these sensitive restrictions should be subject to qualified assessment and supervision by the political bodies of the Union, in order to prevent inappropriate behaviour and the development of unnecessary disputes between EU countries.

A restriction on worker mobility without genuinely serious reasons is an unfortunate solution, as it leads to a growth in undeclared employment, which does not produce legitimate deductions for the pension or taxation system in the country where the undeclared worker is employed. It would be immoral to tolerate such a situation without proper justification, and shameful to a system that allows it.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Iliana Ivanova (PPE). – Madam President, the end of this year is the crucial point when we all can show if we are truly committed to the idea of more Europe and a stronger Europe through more integration.

The 11 Member States that still impose this legally correct mechanism to protect their labour markets could show in reality – and not only in words – if they are open to the idea of a truly free and functioning single market where barriers for workers do not exist and every citizen can exercise his or her right to work in the entire Union.

All the studies and reports recently released by the Commission show no solid evidence of a direct link between the magnitude of labour flows from the two EU Member States and the transitional arrangements in place. On the contrary, evidence shows that the transitional measures have only had a limited influence on the distribution of intra-EU mobility, and that mobility flows are driven by other factors, such as general labour demand and language.

We are now at a stage where, if any of these 11 Member States wants to continue restrictions, that Member State has to provide clear and solid arguments for serious disturbances in its labour markets because of expected inflows of a labour force from Bulgaria and Romania.

It is very important for us to know how the Commission will assess the evidence that the Member States will present. I plead to the Commission to be a true Guardian of the Treaties and to strictly evaluate the arguments that may be presented for its attention. The criteria should be transparent and objective and should prove that the disturbances are a direct result of the opening up of the market.

I hope the Commission will show the strength to reject some of the Member States’ requests if they are not sufficiently backed by objective evidence, and I hope that my colleagues will vote in favour of the resolution tomorrow in order to reconfirm the support that the EU Parliament has always shown for the free movement of workers.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Cătălin Sorin Ivan (S&D).(RO) Madam President, I would like to begin by welcoming the presence of Commissioner Andor at the plenary, at such a late hour this evening.

When we talk about free access for Romanian and Bulgarian workers to the labour market, we have no more than two very definite scenarios. One is where Member States have accepted workers from Romania and Bulgaria and have recorded economic growth. Italy and Spain are cases in point, with a growth rate of roughly 2%. The Spanish authorities have been expressing their gratitude for several years now to workers from Romania and Bulgaria because, thanks to the latter, they have managed to pay more than 250 000 pensions each year. Then there are other states which oppose Romanian and Bulgarian workers having access to the labour market even today. They are experiencing huge economic problems, very large imbalances on their labour market and are hiding behind excuses which we do no understand very clearly and are not explained very well. In fact, these excuses, more often than not, are at odds with the real situation in their respective countries.

This is why I say that it is of paramount importance for us to ask these Member States, if they are going to continue to oppose Romanians and Bulgarians having access to the labour market in their countries, to present clear-cut arguments that are quantifiable and transparent, so that we can all understand why the situation in some Member States differs from that in the other European Union Member States. I believe that European legislation must be applied equally by all Member States.

We have encountered, on very many occasions, governments which, when in delicate political situations, have imposed these conditions and restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers for electoral reasons, to show that they are fighting for the workers in their country and that this is how they protect their own citizens. I believe that this is wrong. In my view, our common project of building the European Union should be the priority, and that election time and winning elections, which are transient events, should only be of secondary importance.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Marian-Jean Marinescu (PPE).(RO) Madam President, labour market restrictions are, admittedly, provided for under the basic EU Treaty. However, the experience from the 10 Member States which joined in 2004 and the two which joined in 2007, along with the survey that was carried out recently, have highlighted that the labour from these countries has had a positive impact in the old states and generated economic growth. On the other hand, the restrictions which have been in force in other Member States have had an adverse impact.

I wish to welcome the decision made by Belgium, which has opened up its labour market, and even that from Germany, which has relaxed its labour market conditions. At the same time, I wish to highlight the paradoxical situation that the Netherlands is in. The Netherlands’ eventual decision to tighten the conditions led to protests by farmers. There is unemployment but, at the same time, there is a labour shortage for demographic reasons. There are disparities between labour markets in different states. There are labour shortages in various professions, but these shortages can be compensated for. Illegal employment is encouraged by having restrictions in place.

I have one final point. I find it bizarre that we are having a discussion here in the European Parliament about the Blue Card and the Seasonal Workers Directive, while we still have restrictions in the internal labour market, at a time when we are talking about strengthening the internal market. This is something we cannot do without complete freedom of labour.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Vasilica Viorica Dăncilă (S&D).(RO) Madam President, as the speakers before me have also mentioned, there are European Union Member States which are maintaining labour market restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers. There are, admittedly, signs that things are opening up, and restrictions in some sectors and professions have been eased or the procedures have been simplified compared to the rules applied prior to Romania and Bulgaria joining the European Union.

Commissioner, I still do not understand why it is that Romanians and Bulgarians, who are European Union citizens, are often associated with labour from third countries.

All European citizens stand to gain from an open labour market and a strong European internal market. Indeed, those maintaining these restrictions must realise that European Union Member States are not competing with each other, but the European Union is competing with the rest of the world and must always be among the frontrunners in this competition.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Danuta Jazłowiecka (PPE). (PL) Madam President, freedom of movement of people and workers in the European Union is one of the key benefits of integration. While exiting the economic and financial crisis, we should particularly encourage the mobility of EU citizens. Despite the fact that freedom of movement and the right to take up work in other Member States has long been one of the Union’s core values, EU citizens still face many barriers and obstacles resulting from different national legislative solutions or, as is still the case for workers from Romania and Bulgaria, the introduction of transition periods. At present, only 2% of EU citizens live in a Member State other than that of which they are nationals. However, more than 17% express a willingness to take up work in another EU Member State, which shows that we are dealing with untapped potential. The second stage of the transition period for workers from Bulgaria and Romania will come to an end at the end of 2011. From then on, Member States wishing to extend the transition period will have to prove that an inflow of workers from those countries would cause serious disruption to the labour market.

Every country has the right to introduce a transition period, but we as MEPs should strive to ensure that the principles on which such decisions are made are clear and transparent and, to that end, establish a set of indicators for considering such requests. Many Members of this House have raised these matters.

Next year, Croatia will join the European Union. I hope that if Member States do not have conclusive evidence that Croatian workers will threaten the stability of their labour markets, they will show openness and contribute to improving mobility in the European Union. Workers from my country, Poland, have proved through the quality of their work that it is worth opening the doors to mobility.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D). (LT) Madam President, I definitely disagree with the idea of the European Union’s Bulgarian and Romanian citizens being discriminated against in the labour market and facing certain restrictions. Some say that they pose a threat to one labour market or other in certain European Union Member States, but no one has proven that threat. On the contrary, the communication published last month by the European Commission shows precisely that, in countries where Romanians and Bulgarians are working, they are contributing to economic prosperity, to improving life and are beneficial, not the opposite. Today, the Commissioner said that the Commission does not have the powers to present specific uniform criteria specifying what constitutes a major threat to one EU Member State or other should Romanian or Bulgarian citizens come there to work without any restrictions. I cannot understand why we cannot have such uniform criteria and who this will harm. The biggest threat I see is that in the European Union, we have begun to divide everything into several areas: there are European Union Member States, euro area countries and non-euro area countries, people who work freely and those who cannot. It is precisely this that is the greatest threat of all, and not the free and unrestricted movement of workers.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Othmar Karas (PPE).(DE) Madam President, I have a further 10 points to make. We need to distinguish between the matter at hand and, unfortunately – it pains me to say this – the resolution. Firstly, there is the mobility of workers. To this we give our unreserved support. Secondly, the prohibition of discrimination is a fundamental right of the European Union. Thirdly, the free movement of workers is a fundamental right. Fourthly, the internal market can only function if the four fundamental freedoms are implemented everywhere. Fifthly, for this, we also need to create the economic and social union. Sixthly, we must not ignore the fears of the people, although they are unfounded. Seventhly, Austria currently has no reason to maintain the restrictions. However, there is an existing bilateral agreement that must be adhered to. Eighthly, criminalising bilateral agreements harms the cause. We are a community based on the rule of law. My ninth point is that if we violate EU law, the Commission would now have to intervene. Lastly, let us look to the future. Insinuations and apportioning blame are not helpful here. The calls being made here can only be implemented after 2013 when the restrictions expire, and the current regulations cannot interfere with existing agreements. Therefore, despite the nature of this matter, it is difficult to support this resolution.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Evgeni Kirilov (S&D). – Madam President, the prolongation of these transitional barriers for the labour force of Bulgaria and Romania is now outdated and totally unacceptable: five years of discriminatory measures are quite enough. Some of the remaining 11 Member States which have indicated that they intend to maintain these restrictions should try very hard to provide a full justification and arguments and data, because the term ‘serious disturbances of labour markets’ requires very convincing arguments.

Some colleagues here have already mentioned the Netherlands. I must say that recently – without any reason – the Netherlands has joined this camp, but they follow in some cases clear xenophobic trends of political behaviour, which is not explicable. If convincing arguments are not provided in such cases of discrimination, this represents a violation of the Accession Treaties.

I might say that in this case, the Commission (and I agree with most colleagues) is actually in debt. The Commission sometimes finds definitions in defence of the Treaties. I see a helpless position in this respect, and I would like to urge Commissioner Andor to be much more active and also to convey our concerns to the Commission as a whole.

In my opinion, the prolongation of this regime leads to a growing shadow economy which is actually causing real disturbances in labour markets, as a lot of colleagues have pointed out.

So please do your best, because the Commission should be much more active on this issue.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Iosif Matula (PPE).(RO) Madam President, a German company recently opened Europe’s largest solar park in Eggebek, located close to Germany’s border with Denmark, and the task of assembling the solar panels was carried out by a Romanian firm. More than 400 000 solar panels were assembled in just four months. The park has a capacity of 83 MW, covers an area of 3.2 km2, and the investment amounts to EUR 130 million. The Romanian company that fitted the panels used a team of 250 workers, the majority of whom were from a commune called Tudor Vladimirescu, in Arad County. The Romanians fitted, on average, more than 3 000 panels a day.

There are numerous examples like this in the EU involving skilled and highly qualified workers from Romania. I welcome Germany’s decision to change the criteria for accessing the labour market, but I would like all Romanian and Bulgarian citizens to enjoy free access to this market inside the EU.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Ioan Enciu (S&D).(RO) Madam President, in two weeks’ time, it will be five years since Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union. Unfortunately, even after these five years, the two countries are not treated like equal partners within the European Union. Romanian and Bulgarian citizens are still banned from enjoying two fundamental freedoms, both symbolic of Europe, as Commissioner Andor has said, namely, the freedom of movement – due to the ban on joining Schengen – and the right to work freely in the European Union.

Member States maintaining the labour restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians have no intention of completely abandoning them even after 1 January 2012, even though there are no objective grounds justifying their extension. As the Commission’s reports prove, Romanian and Bulgarian workers have contributed, and still contribute, not disruption but significant benefits for the economies of the states where they work.

I believe that it is time for Member States to decide whether they recognise or not Romania and Bulgaria having equal member status in the European Union and whether they support or not workers’ mobility within the European Union, as they have committed to through the 2020 strategy.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Nicole Sinclaire (NI). – Madam President, I sympathise with my Romanian and Bulgarian colleagues. They are right that there is no European consistency or social cohesion in this matter, but this is a flaw within the EU. Yes, there is discrimination, but fairness has different sides.

My constituency of the West Midlands in the UK – and the UK has been mentioned, along with the Netherlands, as one of the countries that wants to prolong this exclusion – has the highest youth unemployment in the UK. We need to provide jobs for those people. When the first wave of Eastern bloc countries joined the European Union, the UK was one of the very few countries that did not impose restrictions, and the then Labour government said that 14 000 people from Poland and elsewhere would come into the UK. That 14 000 turned into over 850 000. That put an extreme demand on our social services: on our social housing, on our National Health Service and on our social security. The British taxpayer simply could not afford it.

Earlier today, we heard the United Kingdom being called ‘26 plus one’. Well, it has the right to defend its own borders and to defend its own economy. We will remain that ‘plus one’ and, hopefully, will soon not even be that ‘plus one’ and will be leaving.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Kristian Vigenin (S&D), Blue-card question. – Madam President, I would like to point out to Ms Sinclaire that the people she mentioned have contributed enormously to the economic progress of the United Kingdom over this period. If she is talking about British taxpayers, those 800 000 were also British taxpayers and contributed to welfare assistance as well. I would ask her to please be more careful when making her judgments.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Nicole Sinclaire (NI), Blue-card answer. – Madam President, I wish to thank Mr Vigenin for his question.

Yes, of course, they are taxpayers, but what we are talking about here is the fact that, while they were paying tax, there was a British person who was unemployed because that job was taken, so that was a strain on our social security system. The United Kingdom is, simply, a small island. It is not about race, it is about space: we simply do not have enough jobs.

I would like to see a points system in the United Kingdom, whereby we have people from outside the European Union and people from within the European Union as well, so that we can fill the vacancies we actually have. There is no point bringing workers in from around the European Union when we simply do not have the jobs.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D), Blue-card question.(RO) Madam President, I would like to ask Ms Sinclaire whether she has any data on the contribution made by migrant workers from the new Member States to the economic development of her country, and also whether she can tell us the size of the support provided by social services to migrant workers.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Nicole Sinclaire (NI), Blue-card answer. – Madam President, I do not have the statistics to hand but I have read several reports since 2005 and it is there for people to see in the United Kingdom.

We can see this. We could see in 2006 and 2007 the demand on social housing, the demand on our health service and the demand on social security. Child benefit is paid for every child in the UK, and there were examples of workers from Eastern bloc countries claiming this money for children still resident in the Eastern bloc.

That was the demand on British taxpayers. There is obviously an economic benefit from migrant workers to the UK. The UK has benefited from migration since the Second World War, from our own old Empire and Commonwealth countries. We need a certain level of immigration, but it needs to be controlled immigration under our terms, not your terms.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Madam President, at European Union level, there is no such thing as ‘our terms’ and ‘your terms’, only European Union terms. The free movement of persons is one of the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Treaties, which includes the right for EU citizens to live and work in another Member State. The contribution made by migrant workers from the new Member States to the development of the economies of the host states is universally recognised.

We call for the lifting of the barriers preventing the free movement of Romanian and Bulgarian workers and for respect for all workers’ fundamental social rights. Lifting these barriers will protect both migrant and host state workers equally. Maintaining these barriers creates conditions for social dumping and affects both workers in the host state and migrant workers who are obliged to accept jobs below their level of qualifications and with a salary lower than that received by a local worker with the same skills.

We call on the EU and Member States to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers, prevent migrants being recruited to work in precarious working and social welfare conditions, and ensure that migrant workers’ families have access to education, health care services and decent housing.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Nicole Sinclaire (NI), Blue-card question. – Ms Ţicău, you mentioned that we are either in this or out of this, but the Treaty of Rome actually says that for any kind of changes, especially to any Treaties, you need unanimity.

But the European Union changes the rules as it goes along do you not? The British Prime Minister vetoed a new treaty last week, but you are going ahead with the rest of the 26 of you. Where does unanimity come in there? There are rules when they suit you and rules when they do not suit you.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D), Blue-card answer.(RO) Madam President, I believe that, just like when we are debating budget deficit constraints, here, too, we must put the employment rate in the European Union and social Europe on the same footing. The European Union’s social policy must be on an equal footing with its economic policy: this is what is meant by equality and unanimity regarding the important policies of the European Union.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Piotr Borys (PPE). (PL) Madam President, I wish to say that today’s subject is very important in view of the words uttered in this Chamber by the Polish Prime Minister and leader of the Polish Presidency. Today, one of the responses to the crisis is deeper integration. We need to resolve the problems that exist in the overall system of restricting the freedom of movement of people, in the form of Schengen, and in the transition periods which, at present, significantly discriminate against citizens of Bulgaria and Romania. We should have more courage in our efforts to ensure that the movement of workers can be an opportunity to develop the European Union and overcome the crisis.

We must today realise that one third of EU citizens do not have any professional qualifications. How are we to achieve mobility, which we specify as being part of the Europe 2020 strategy, if we do not fully open up labour markets for all Member States, also in view of the accession of Croatia? I therefore appeal for courage and for our solutions to include an opening of markets through the free movement of workers with a view to improving Europe’s competitiveness. I therefore appeal for courage and for such action to be taken by the Commission. Parliament’s voice is thus very important.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  Kristian Vigenin (S&D).(BG) Madam President, Mr Andor, we are aware that there is a legal basis for extending the restrictions period and that the Commission cannot do much on this issue, particularly if it is not enthusiastic about getting involved more seriously. What we want is for you to draw up clearer criteria which will provide a basis for Member States’ decisions. I think that this option is fully available to you.

Governments must read carefully your last report of 11 November, where the data speaks for itself – there are no grounds for continuing the restrictions. There are no economic indicators suggesting that labour from Bulgaria and Romania poses a threat. On the contrary, the restrictions result only in more undeclared work, with adverse consequences for all participants on the labour market.

Let us not beat about the bush: the reasons for extending the period are solely political. However, the principles of free movement of persons and the right to work cannot be subject to double standards when it comes to implementation. We do not want any favours for Bulgaria and Romania. We simply want fair treatment and a rejection of the policy promoting the systemic humiliation of two European Union Member States and their citizens.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  László Andor, Member of the Commission. – Madam President, thank you very much for this lively discussion. I would like to start my answer by saying that, for the countries that joined the European Union in 2007, the same transitional arrangements apply as for the intake of 2004, and the same arrangements also apply to Croatia, for which the agreement was recently signed.

This also allows us to look at the experience of the 2004 group by way of comparison. This I believe strongly supports the argument that the receiving countries hugely benefited from mobile workers from new Member States, and also the United Kingdom, on which there has been an exchange of views in the debate.

I think it is very important to say that, despite the fact that the actual number of workers coming from Poland and other countries was much higher than originally expected, we have to stress the enormous economic benefit of this contribution as opposed to speaking about these mobile workers being a burden on social security or the health care system.

I think it is very useful to look at the debates in Germany and Austria, in which I participated in the spring period of this year, before 1 May, when these two countries also eventually had to open up their labour markets for the 2004 intake. There was clearly a feeling that these two countries probably lost out by maintaining the restrictions until the last possible day, and that perhaps it would have been much wiser for them to have opened up earlier, especially because of the specific demographic conditions of Germany and also the very good labour market performance of the large number of vacancies this country has. I think this should be a lesson and an example for others.

In the current situation, I think we have to look at the concrete labour market conditions in each and every country and not only the European average. As we all know, the European averages are not very encouraging. We have been stuck with a very high unemployment rate – about 10% – and the coming year is not expected to be very easy. However, this average masks very great discrepancies, and this is why I would agree with those who suggest that, in countries where the unemployment rate is very low, like Austria or the Netherlands, it will be very difficult to provide factual justification for the maintenance of these restrictions.

I also have to stress that some Members of the House rightly pointed to the very complex and sometimes (unfortunately) xenophobic discussions in the Netherlands vis-à-vis mobile worker citizens from other EU Member States. Such discourse definitely does not help a constructive solution or response to this question to emerge.

It is very clear that the economies of some of these countries we are speaking about need more workers, also from other EU countries. The business community is expressing this opinion, and I think wise policy makers will pay attention to this. We have been engaged with the governments of these countries: I have written letters to all of them and explained what the rules are and what we expect.

I can tell you that we have so far received only one notification or request from Member States about the extension of the restrictions. Previous experience has shown that Member States tend to wait until the very end of the period to send their notifications, and so far only the United Kingdom has sent one, on 24 November.

This notification states that the UK decided to retain labour market restrictions following the advice from the Independent Migration Advisory Committee, which stated in its report of 4 November 2011 that, based on an analysis of recent labour market indicators, the UK labour market is in a state of serious disturbance and that removing existing restrictions would increase the risk of an increased inflow of EU2 nationals, with a potential negative impact on the UK labour market. As we know from new statistics, unemployment in the UK is at a 17-year high, but I think it has to be stressed that foreign workers should not be blamed for this. We have to look at the situation in the case of the UK and, should others come, on a case-by-case basis.

The Commission will check at the beginning of next year whether the Member States that have a right in this context have provided, together with the notification, an explanation – with supporting evidence and pertinent arguments – on the existence of a serious labour market disturbance or threat thereof. If a Member State has, for example, not provided an explanation at all or has not provided an explanation with sufficient data and pertinent arguments, the Commission will ask the Member State to provide the missing information.

The Commission services will examine the notification and the explanations and the data provided by the Member States. I am planning to present my summary to the ministers in the EPSCO Council in February.

 
  
MPphoto
 

  President. – I have received five motions for resolutions tabled in accordance with Rule 108(5) of the Rules of Procedure.

The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at 11.30 on Thursday, 15 December 2011.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D), in writing.(PT) This plenary will examine documents that reinforce the right of citizens to participate in the European Common Market, as well as the principal of free movement of workers in the European Union area. One of the documents specifically simplifies the bureaucracy inherent in residence and work applications. With the growing movement between Member States of people who work and live in a Member State other than their country of origin, it is necessary to simplify the bureaucracy of the procedures to eliminate obstacles to a freedom given in the Treaties, thus allowing citizens to fully enjoy their rights. As the free movement of people is a fundamental right, realised through the area of freedom, security and justice, without internal borders, the provisions of the Schengen agreement, which has been extended to more Member States since 1990, must be allowed to definitively encompass all the countries of the EU. Thus, both Romanian and Bulgarian workers should have full access to the countries of the EU and, as such, the transitional provisions in force for these two countries should be abolished, there being no justification for this discrimination. The success of the European project partly depends on a feeling of belonging to the common area. Freedom of movement is thus a right and an imperative for European integration.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE), in writing.(RO) The free movement of workers is one of the basic principles of the functioning of the internal market. Any EU citizen is free to seek a job, work, settle or provide services in another Member State. The European labour market can only function properly by complying with this basic principle enshrined in the European Treaties.

Although there are numerous specific initiatives at the moment in the EU promoting labour mobility, we can see that very few people are exercising this right. Unfortunately, some Member States have maintained the restrictions applied to Romanian and Bulgarian citizens under the pretext of protecting their labour market against any imbalance due to labour migration. Several reports contradict the arguments put forward by these countries, based on actual migration figures. Therefore, it has been confirmed that Romanian and Bulgarian workers have a positive impact on the EU economy.

I think that, in the current global economic climate marked by a powerful economic crisis, it is our obligation to support the lifting of any barriers slowing down the European economy and exerting an adverse impact on the level of labour mobility and the economic integration process in general.

 
  
MPphoto
 
 

  Kinga Göncz (S&D), in writing.(HU) I hope that Member States that are, to this day, keeping their labour markets closed to Bulgarian and Romanian employees will lift their transitional restrictions at the beginning of the coming year. No surveys have confirmed previous concerns about Bulgarian and Romanian employees flooding the Member States, causing serious labour market disturbances after the accession of these countries in 2007. What we are seeing instead is that employees arriving from these two countries take employment in occupations where there is a shortage of workforce, and work in jobs for which there are few applicants from within a country’s borders. I therefore find the intention of some EU Member States to maintain the barriers set in place against these employees even in the last phase of the seven-year transitory period to be unjustified. The exclusion of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens from Member State labour markets opens up avenues for semi-legal, undeclared work and fake enterprises, which goes hand in hand with the abuse of employees’ rights. It is an important goal to enable appropriate jobs to be filled by appropriate workers. This requires Member States to take the right of workers to move freely within the European Union seriously. It is the responsibility of the European Commission to allow Member States intending to continue to maintain transitory barriers after 1 January 2012 to do so only if they can provide convincing arguments and justification supported by authentic data.

 
Last updated: 19 March 2012Legal notice