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Procedure : 2010/2776(RSP)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : O-0096/2010

Texts tabled :

O-0096/2010

Debates :

PV 08/09/2010 - 15
CRE 08/09/2010 - 15

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Debates
Wednesday, 8 September 2010 - Strasbourg OJ edition

15. Free movement of workers – temporary restrictions affecting Romanian and Bulgarian citizens on the European Union labour market (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the debate on the oral question to the Commission by Rovana Plumb, Iliana Malinova Iotova, Pervenche Berès, Stephen Hughes, Alejandro Cercas, Gianni Pittella and Jutta Steinruck, on behalf of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, on the free movement of workers – temporary restrictions affecting Romanian and Bulgarian citizens on the European Union labour market (O-0096/2010 - B7-0455/2010).

 
  
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  Rovana Plumb, Author.(RO) During his State of the Union address, the President of the Commission, Mr Barroso, stressed that increasing the level of employment across Europe was a priority.

Furthermore, we have all committed to achieving the objectives of the European Union’s strategy for the next 10 years on increasing the level of employment and reducing poverty. Today, Parliament’s plenary adopted the employment guidelines and we have asked the Council to take them into consideration.

If we really want to achieve the objectives we have committed to, if we really want Europe to lead the way in terms of competitiveness and if we really want a fair Europe to ensure its citizens’ well-being, the right of free movement of workers must be respected.

The free movement of workers is one of the EU’s fundamental freedoms. A powerful internal market can only be achieved by opening up the labour market completely.

According to the Commission Communication in November 2008, mobility flows have had a major positive impact on economic growth in the European Union. The mobility of labour from Romania and Bulgaria has had beneficial effects on the economies of the host Member States without having any significant impact on the salaries and jobs of local nationals.

The economic crisis can no longer be used as an excuse for enforcing and maintaining these labour market restrictions. Keeping these restrictions in place is a measure discouraging workers from Romania and Bulgaria from engaging in gainful employment within the relevant Member States. This factor makes workers bypass the legal regulations on the obligation to obtain a work permit, thereby increasing the incidence of illegal work. The direct upshot of illegal work is to block access to the rights deriving from the European system for the coordination of social security schemes.

Romania and Bulgaria believe that, in the current European economic climate, removing the barriers preventing the free movement of workers throughout the EU will greatly help boost the European Union’s ability to respond to new challenges.

Commissioner, I want to ask the following question because I want this European Commission to be our ally and offer full-on institutional assistance: What measures will you take to encourage Member States which are still applying restrictions to open up their labour market completely?

 
  
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  John Dalli, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, free movement of workers is a fundamental principle in the EU. Together with free movement of goods, services and capital, it is a pillar of the single market and it has contributed to making European integration a success.

As you are well aware, for the first seven years of the EU membership of Bulgaria and Romania, Bulgarian and Romanian workers cannot fully benefit from free movement of workers. This is due to the transitional arrangements in place, as provided for by the Accession treaties, which allow the other Member States to delay the application of EU law on free movement to Bulgarian and Romanian workers for a maximum period of seven years.

When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, already 10 of the 25 Member States decided to open their labour markets to Bulgarian and Romanian workers. Today, this number has increased to 15 and only ten Member States continue to apply restrictions. It is worth noting that, among the ten Member States, several apply less strict conditions or procedures in comparison to those in place before Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU.

It is important to bear in mind that the decision as to whether to apply the transitional arrangements and restrict labour market access is the sole responsibility of the Member State concerned. The Commission does not have any formal role to play in ending the restrictions.

However, the Commission is, as a matter of principle, in favour of fully applying free movement of workers. In addition, the Commission has always worked to ensure that the Member States which apply restrictions do so in line with the conditions laid down in the Accession Treaty.

The Commission has also repeatedly stressed that the transitional arrangements are, by definition, temporary, and that Member States should gradually open their labour markets, instead of delaying the application of free movement of workers until the end of the seven-year period.

The 2006 and 2008 Commission reports on the functioning of the transitional arrangements show that labour mobility, following the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, has had a positive impact on the economy and has helped meet labour demand. These findings remain valid, even in the current economic crisis. The Commission will continue to encourage Member States to re-examine their position on labour market access, including by referring to the findings of the reports.

There is no detailed information as regards the number or social situation of irregular workers coming from the Member States that joined the EU recently. This is due precisely to the hidden character of their presence in the Member States concerned.

In the 2006 and 2008 reports, the Commission underlined that restrictions to free movement of workers do not necessarily result in protecting the national labour market and may delay labour market adjustments. What is more, transitional arrangements can exacerbate the incidence of undeclared work. It has been shown that enlargement has contributed to bringing to the surface part of the underground economy constituted by previously undeclared workers from the new Member States.

There is also convincing evidence that nationals from the new Member States have had undeclared jobs due to the restrictions they face in accessing the labour market of the ‘old’ Member States. This is in line with the findings that mobility flows are mainly driven by factors related to supply and demand conditions and that restrictions to free movement of workers delay labour market adjustments.

The Commission does not intend to elaborate a specific study on the living and working conditions of the irregular labour force from Bulgaria and Romania or on its impact on the domestic labour markets, notably due to the lack of information and difficulties of collecting such data. However, the issue of ‘irregular workers’ from Bulgaria and Romania will be covered, as far as possible, in any analysis the Commission may develop in the future about the functioning of the transitional arrangements for Bulgaria and Romania if, as foreseen by the transitional arrangements, one of the two countries requests it. In addition, the Commission will continue to promote specific activities to combat undeclared work, in cooperation with the Member States.

The Commission understands that the fact that Bulgarian and Romanian workers still face restrictions can be perceived as discrimination.

I would like to stress that transitional arrangements in the area of free movement of workers were applied in the majority of previous enlargements. In addition, transitional arrangements apply, not only to Bulgarian and Romanian workers, but also to workers from eight of the ten Member States that joined the EU in 2004.

It is also worth pointing out that the current transitional arrangements offer more flexibility to Member States by allowing them to decide when to start applying EU law on free movement of workers during the seven-year-period in the light of the situation of their labour market (the previous transitional arrangements simply deferred the introduction of EU law on free movement of workers by a number of years).

However, discrimination perceived by Bulgarian and Romanian workers who cannot work freely in the ten Member States that still apply restrictions does not constitute discrimination in the legal sense of the term. Although Article 18 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union prohibits discrimination based on nationality, it does so subject to specific provisions contained in the other EU treaties. The transitional arrangements laid down in the Accession Treaty constitute such provisions.

Temporarily restricting labour market access to Bulgarian and Romanian workers on the basis of the transitional arrangements is therefore not contrary to EU law.

 
  
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  Thomas Mann, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, under the 2+3+2 rule, Germany and Austria are making full use of the seven-year transitional period before there is complete freedom of movement for workers from the Member States which joined in 2004. In the case of Bulgaria and Romania, Germany is also using the full amount of time permitted during the second phase from 2009 to 2011.

Mr Dalli has said that there are 10 Member States which are still subject to restrictions. There is a valid reason for this, because the Member States have had different experiences. These restrictions are never discriminatory – you have rightly referred to Article 18 in this respect – and have specific time limits. The opportunity to get used to change gradually is an important and fundamental political choice. Our experience is that making free movement available to workers too early exposes the labour market to major risks. This concerns different target groups, such as the long-term unemployed and also low-qualified workers, and in my country, for example, the regions of eastern Germany. We will have to continue regulating access to jobs in the EU, because of the differing experiences in different areas, but this will, of course, lead to changes in the near future. However, we are not yet properly prepared for these changes.

Calling on the Commission to carry out a study on the so-called positive influence of illegal workers from Bulgaria and Romania is totally the wrong approach. When illegal workers are breaking the law, this cannot be played down by statistics, however positive they appear. I remain in favour of strict controls which will allow us to combat illegal working. We owe it to those people who are legally employed.

There is another important task which we must work on together and that is to look in detail at full freedom of movement from 2012 onwards. This involves both opportunities and risks. Only when we differentiate between them and deal with facts and only when we have an informed, detailed discussion can we stop armchair politics from coming into the situation, prevent exclusion and ensure that we are not suddenly working against rather than with each other. This is the position of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats).

As early as December 2009, I asked the Commission whether there was any usable information available about the effects of full freedom of movement for workers. The answer was that the free movement of workers has a positive impact on the economy and no negative side-effects on the labour market. I am sorry, Mr Dalli, but that is not good enough. You were not in office at the time, but that makes it all the more important for your department to understand people’s fears and to contribute a great deal of knowledge to the discussion which we need to have on change and to giving substance to the arguments in the old and new Member States.

 
  
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  Ivailo Kalfin, on behalf of the S&D Group.(BG) Commissioner, I would like us to use this debate to appeal to the governments of the Member States where Bulgarian and Romanian citizens continue to face various restrictions on the labour market to lift them as soon as possible. The reasons for this are not only linked to the principles of the European Union, one of which is the free movement of persons.

From an economic perspective, opening up the labour market ensures much added value. On the one hand, this is because of the larger supply of specialists in areas where there are insufficient candidates in the domestic market. I can give you as an example Bulgarian doctors and healthcare workers who are working in regions where Member States simply do not have their own staff available. This creates a problem in remote regions of Bulgaria, but resolves the problems in regions of the UK and France, for instance. It means lower costs and better public services for taxpayers. In the economic sector, employees from the new Member States are usually either highly qualified specialists whom any economy would like to use or workers who are making up shortfalls in the labour market, increasing competitiveness and preventing companies from relocating outside the European Union.

The assumption that citizens from the European Union’s new Member States displace local low-paid workers is absolutely unfounded and populist. A Bulgarian citizen who goes to work in another country needs money for accommodation, for supporting his family and sending his children to school. He also tries to save money with the prospect of returning home one day. There is also the language barrier problem on top of this. Reports about how low a salary this citizen would agree to work for are an urban myth for domestic consumption. This is also confirmed by the European Commission’s data, according to which the share of migrant workers from the new Member States has increased from 0.2% to 0.5% of the population of the old Member States following the European Union’s enlargement. There is obviously no migration wave. On the other hand, the problem is that there are far fewer migrant workers from Member States than immigrants from third countries.

The labour market restrictions cannot be justified with objective arguments. Equal access to the markets results in much greater transparency, yields economic gains and has a beneficial impact on Member States’ social systems. Commissioner, we are expecting the Commission to monitor very closely the processes and to inform Member States about the benefits of opening up the market.

 
  
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  Adina-Ioana Vălean, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, I am somewhat satisfied that Mr Barroso announced on Tuesday that deepening the single market was at the top of his agenda. Twenty-four years after the Single European Act and eighteen years after it was due for completion, the single market is still not a fully-fledged reality. To quote Mr Barroso: ‘Only 8% of Europe’s 20 million SMEs engage in cross-border trade’.

The Monti report identifies 150 barriers within the European Union that impede the free movement of people, goods, capital and services. This so-called ‘single market’ seems to me more like a French gruyere!

Mr Barroso is now selling us the idea of a single market act and is calling for a relaunch of Mr Delors’ European idea. Let me refresh our minds about European history: if we want to create a single market effectively based on the principle of the free movement of people, goods, capital and services; if we want to avoid economic nationalism as a backlash against economic crisis; and if we want to be the most competitive economy and to boost competitiveness and create more jobs and growth, then our first and utmost priority should be to lift these unjustifiable barriers to the free movement of workers imposed on Romania, Bulgaria and the ten new Member States, which are based on irrational fears that have not proven justified.

The Commission must be extremely stringent with Member States that choose to maintain transitory restrictions. These will have to be justified on the basis of sound economic data. The alleged vulnerability, or serious disturbances, of national labour markets will have to be proven on the basis of rational figures and will have to be scrutinised on the basis of statistics and facts.

If Mr Barroso wants to relaunch the single market, then it is about time we acted according to our words. It is about time to tear down these shameful walls of economic protectionism and nationalism.

 
  
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  Rui Tavares, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(PT) This week we have seen much discussion in Parliament on freedom of movement, particularly from Romania and Bulgaria, not only as it relates to the issue of workers, but also, yesterday, on the matter of the Roma or gypsy minority. We often lose ourselves in the legal details of this issue, and we forget that the law should only be a basic framework for the spirit of the European Union, which is one centred on freedom of movement.

The law is the minimum threshold for freedom of movement. At present, the governments of various Member States are using the law as a way of countering the constitutional spirit of the EU. In Parliament, we too are mired in legal analysis, forgetting that we are a political Chamber, not a legal consultancy.

We must be the bearers of a vision for Europe, and we must be more emphatic in stressing that freedom of movement is the goal of the EU. In the same way, I believe that the Commission falls far short of this ideal. The role of the Commission has changed recently. The Commissioner tells us that Member States have a right to impose restrictions, and that the Commission has nothing to do with it. Yet it does! The Commission is the guardian of the treaties, and I believe that it has to be much more emphatic and passionate about advocating freedom of movement. We know that large regional units such as the US or Brazil, or our competitors which, like these two countries, have internal freedom of movement, respond much better to crises, because their workforce can look for work where it is. We in Europe have had difficulty from the outset in being able to respond to this crisis quickly.

By acting on national self interest in this area, the Member States are forgetting the public interest. When they act this way with the capital market, the Commission speaks out forcefully, so why can it not do this when it happens to the freedom of workers?

 
  
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  Gerard Batten, on behalf of the EFD Group. – Mr President, this question opens with a statement that the free movement of workers is beneficial to the economies of Member States and does not have serious negative side effects on their labour markets.

The US economist, Professor George Borjas, disagrees. He says, ‘there is no gain from immigration if the native wage is not reduced by immigration’. In 2003, a study published by the Dutch Government said ‘GDP will increase but this increase will largely accrue to the migrants in the form of wages. The overall net gain in income to residents is likely to be small and may even be negative’. A report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs in 2008 said ‘although possible in theory, we found no systematic empirical evidence to suggest that net immigration creates significant dynamic benefits for the UK resident population’.

Uncontrolled and unrestricted immigration into the UK has meant that the wages of native workers have been driven down, while living costs have been driven up because of extra demand on housing. The people at the bottom end of the economic scale have experienced this directly.

Massive immigration of cheap labour may benefit an expanding and developing economy in a country with vast reserves of untapped natural resources, such as America in the 19th century, but it will have the opposite effect on a developed post-industrial economy such as Britain, as has proved to be the case.

Governments should protect the interests of their own citizens first and then help other countries to develop their economies by adopting sensible international trade policies, such as Britain used to do before we joined the European Union. That is why the only sensible policy for Great Britain is that of the UK Independence Party, which is to leave the European Union.

 
  
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  Traian Ungureanu (PPE). – Mr President, the current economic crisis requires resolute action towards the effective completion of the internal market. If we are not ready to open our markets, including the labour market, to all European citizens, the losses will be higher than the gains. Recent studies undertaken by the European Commission have proved that opening our labour market will be beneficial and that worries concerning job losses due to labour migration are totally unfounded.

This sort of scaremongering has been proved wrong again and again. In 2006, British experts estimated that 300 000 Romanians would flood Britain in search of jobs. They are still looking for them. Nothing of the kind happened. The truth is that there is no rational reason to maintain the labour barrier for Romanian and Bulgarian workers. Past experience shows that workers from eastern Member States fill a gap in the labour market and take jobs that are not wanted or are not fully covered by the local workforce.

Moreover, there is no way Romanians and Bulgarians will arrive in Western Europe to take advantage of its generous welfare system. Both Romania and Bulgaria have high enrolment rates in secondary and tertiary education. Both countries have a highly skilled resilient workforce. If the EU wants to make full use of its resources in these times of crisis, then political trust and economic openness should be properly established between Member States. To quote President Barroso’s speech of two days ago in this House, ‘we either swim together or sink separately.’ To paraphrase this, we either work together or get unemployed separately.

 
  
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  Evgeni Kirilov (S&D). – Mr President, the Commission report clearly points out that labour supply and demand determine the volume and direction of the workers, rather than any restrictions on the labour market. Furthermore, it states that future immigration flows to the EU from Bulgaria and Romania are highly unlikely.

These restrictions stimulate the creation of bad practices, due to the vulnerability of the illegal workers who are easily exploitable. As Commissioner De Gucht said, this flow of people would not change if it was made official, but the result would be that they would pay social contributions and taxes.

Post-enlargement flows from Bulgaria and Romania have also been significantly outnumbered by recent immigration of non-EU nationals. Obviously, non-discrimination and freedom of movement are fundamental rights for every European Union worker, and it is an unfortunate fact that some EU Member States, as pointed out in the report, have decided not to comply with these basic principles.

I should like to stress something which is quite important: tolerating second-class EU citizenship calls into question the integrity of the Union as a whole.

 
  
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  Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE).(BG) Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, when we talk about a single European Union and a single European market, we cannot support restrictions which have been artificially imposed on every citizen of the European Union exercising the guaranteed right to work in other Member States without being discriminated against on the grounds of citizenship, as this would constitute a gross violation against Bulgarian and Romanian citizens on the labour market. In the spirit of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, we must prevent a separate category from being created, as also mentioned by Mr Kirilov, as we do not want to be second-class citizens of the European Union. To achieve this, we must lift the temporary restrictions on the free movement of Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

With this in mind, I call on the Commission to propose concrete measures to allow significant progress to be made towards greater access to labour markets being granted by Member States to regular workers from Bulgaria and Romania without breaching local labour legislation provisions in the relevant European states.

The latest events in Europe relating to the migration of the Roma minority from both our countries, who are availing themselves of the opportunity of freedom of movement to find a better future, clearly highlight that it is time for the Commission to take action. Bearing in mind the proven positive impact of mobility following the EU’s enlargement and to ensure that the internal market operates more effectively, I call on the Commission to propose a package of credible measures aimed at encouraging Member States to amend their labour market policy and at getting national governments to make a commitment not to extend the current restrictions imposed on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens.

I wish to conclude by stressing that any basis for discrimination in labour relations must be eliminated in order to keep the most powerful driving force for European integration going, in other words, Europe’s citizens.

 
  
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  Marie-Christine Vergiat (GUE/NGL).(FR) Mr President, France is unfortunately one of the 10 Member States that have imposed restrictions on the free movement of Romanian and Bulgarian workers. If my information is correct, it was even France that called for the measures implemented at the time of the accession of the first eight Eastern European countries to be extended to Romania and Bulgaria. It must be said that the French Government at that time was not very different from the one that is currently in power and was particularly mistrustful of citizens from those two countries. A huge amount of legislation was passed at that time to prevent the entry of citizens from those two countries because, as far as the French authorities are concerned, behind Romanians and behind Bulgarians there are Roma.

As you have told us, Commissioner, freedom of movement is a fundamental principle of the EU. In this Chamber, we often talk of our common values, of our commitment to human rights. Why then, Commissioner, are men, and women, of course, treated less favourably than capital and goods?

You tell us that worker mobility has positive effects on the economy and that this holds true, even in the current economic circumstances. Why then, Commissioner, does the Commission not devote as much energy to convincing States that these restrictions must be removed as it devotes in other economic fields?

Finally, Commissioner, you say to us, ‘It is not States that discriminate against these workers.’ As a Frenchwoman, I really cannot agree with you there.

 
  
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  Iliana Ivanova (PPE).(BG) Ladies and gentlemen, the European Parliament has always emphasised in its work its role of expressing the interests of European citizens. I believe that most of us will agree that discrimination on any grounds whatsoever has no place in the kind of European Union which we want to see and want our children to grow up in. The restrictions on workers from Bulgaria and Romania, even if they are legally substantiated by both countries’ accession treaties, are essentially discriminatory on the basis of nationality. We cannot talk about unfair treatment to Roma while, at the same time, turning a blind eye to the different treatment shown towards workers from two full EU Member States.

I support what fellow Members have said. The research carried out and recommendations made by the European Commission genuinely prove that enlargement of the labour markets has had a positive impact and is conducive to the overall development of the single European internal market. However, the fact remains that 10 Member States are continuing to retain restricted access to their labour markets until 2013.

Fellow Members, Europe is at a crossroads and we must choose now in which direction to go: towards more or less integration. In my view, there is undoubtedly only one direction: a strong, united Europe. However, this path also involves all of us showing the clear desire to respect the fundamental European values, which means the free movement of persons and workers. I sincerely hope that protectionism does not prevail when national policies are being drawn up because we will be much stronger facing the world together than divided. I want to call on the European Commission, with the support, of course, of the European Parliament as well, to really cooperate more actively and decisively with the countries which are still imposing restrictions so that they can be lifted early. I believe that this will also help the European economy recover more quickly from the recession so that we can all look our citizens in the eye with a clear conscience and tell them that there is no discrimination in the European Union in the 21st century.

 
  
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  Iliana Malinova Iotova (S&D).(BG) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, Bulgaria and Romania obviously countered the fears of Europeans about huge flows of workers which would have threatened their labour markets. The European Commission’s statistics showed that less than 1% of Bulgarians are looking for work in the old Member States. Even against the background of a severe financial and economic crisis and new fears of spiralling unemployment, the trend did not change. Workers would clearly migrate to where there is a demand for labour, but the figures show that unemployment is higher in some of these 10 countries than in Bulgaria and Romania.

Retaining the restrictions encourages the informal economy and undeclared work. I wonder if you are aware that in the Netherlands alone, the proportion of Bulgarians and Romanians who work on the black market has increased by 8%. This is tolerated by employers and the Dutch because it reduces their costs. This is not to mention the seasonal workers without employment contracts and any social rights. Restrictions will not resolve the problem of unemployment in Europe.

I am sure, Commissioner, that the European Commission has mechanisms available for lobbying the 10 countries to reconsider the restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers. You referred, indeed, to the treaties, as is appropriate. However, let us not forget that the treaties were signed in different circumstances. There are new circumstances now which go by the name of ‘recession’. It is high time for a new discussion on this matter in the Council as well, which you could initiate. We are expecting you not only to be our allies, but also to propose concrete actions. You are guardian of the EU treaties and you must not allow double standards to be applied to Bulgaria and Romania whatever inclinations there obviously are and which are being heard even in this Chamber.

 
  
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  Renate Weber (ALDE). – Mr President, I confess I would be better off speaking in my own language, but listening to the Commissioner’s answer, I have decided to forget about my prepared notes and to speak in English. This is firstly because I think we would like the Commissioner to understand us directly, rather than via the interpreters; and secondly, because otherwise, I suppose that we will mostly be hearing Romanian and Bulgarian during this late debate in the Chamber tonight.

Commissioner, you mentioned that several studies have shown that after the accession of the countries from Eastern and Central Europe, the problems were not in the countries where the workers were accepted. In fact, it was quite the opposite: they actually had a positive impact and GDP increased, so there is no fear about an influx of workers from these countries. The fact that you also mentioned countries other than Romania and Bulgaria is no comfort at all for us. In fact, it is quite the opposite: it shows that there is discrimination against even more EU citizens.

I have to confess that I was surprised when you said that it is up to the Member States. If we cannot speak about a single market without mentioning the labour market, and if we all admit that this is a fundamental right, then how can it be up to the Member States? We know that the enforcement of fundamental rights lies within the European Union’s sphere of responsibility, so the principle of subsidiarity does not apply.

So I honestly think that the Commission should do much more to convince the Member States to lift these restrictions, which discredit the European Union.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Free movement of persons is one of the EU’s fundamental principles. Achieving the internal market is based on free movement of workers and labour mobility is a vital prerequisite for reducing unemployment in the EU.

The economic crisis must not be used as an excuse for continuing to impose the temporary measures restricting the free movement of Romanian and Bulgarian workers.

I also wish to highlight the fact that Member States must give priority to citizens from EU Member States over labour coming from outside the EU.

Current barriers preventing the free movement of Romanian and Bulgarian workers can lead to undeclared work and social dumping. Lifting these barriers will protect both migrant and local workers equally.

Given that in the countries where these barriers apply, requests have even been made by the business community to open up the labour market completely, this indicates that bosses and trade unions have realised that lifting these barriers means equal income for equal work and knowledge. Above all, it means that every worker will not only pay charges and taxes, but also contribute to the social security and healthcare system.

The European Union is primarily about its 500 million European citizens and respect for their rights. I call on the Commission and Member States to demonstrate the political will required to lift the barriers preventing free movement of workers.

 
  
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  Cătălin Sorin Ivan (S&D).(RO) We are debating this evening an issue, solution and attitude from the Commission which I find hard to understand.

The labour shortage in Western Europe and the ageing population are, if you like, compensated by labour from Eastern Europe. These people are European Union citizens who travel thousands of kilometres to come and work, even if only for a short period, in Western countries.

There are jobs that Spanish, Italian or French citizens do not want to do, which are done by these workers. In practical terms, Western Europe’s problems are solved by the workers who come from Eastern European countries. However, it is difficult to comprehend the Commission’s attitude because these issues ought to be regulated and the rights of these workers respected.

At the moment, it is not very clear to anyone what the situation is, for example, regarding social contributions made by those working in Spain or Italy after their return to their country of origin.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (S&D).(RO) As already mentioned in this Chamber, almost four years on from joining the European Union, we are witnessing this divide which is posing a challenge not only to the integration project, but also to a reality summarised in the recommendation from the European Commission which, just two years ago, was highlighting the positive impact of labour market mobility in the wake of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s accession.

Free movement of workers is a fundamental principle and the current state of affairs only helps confirm how absurd the restriction is which has been imposed on Romanians and Bulgarians. The European economy is feeling the impact of the ageing population and labour shortage in certain areas, thereby making worker migration a necessary solution.

At the same time, we have debated the Roma crisis in France this week, which could have been avoided if these European citizens could have found a job and not been kept at the margins of society, including these employment bans. Unfortunately, instead of treating the causes, some people imagine that they can resolve something by applying police measures to the effects. This shows a lack of realism, which is disappointingly intertwined with the hypocrisy of double standards.

Prostitution, begging and crime are also consequences of poverty exacerbated by having no job opportunities. The only viable solution is fair, non-discriminatory treatment for all European Union citizens.

 
  
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  Miroslav Mikolášik (PPE). (SK) Many reports and statistics show that the free movement of workers is beneficial to the economy and has no serious adverse side effects on labour markets. Personally, I believe that the greatest possible degree of freedom of movement, including the possibility to work in another Member State – which applies to all people within the internal borders of the Union – is an essential precondition for the optimal and homogenous functioning of the internal market.

Bearing in mind the equality of all European Union citizens, I support the opening up of labour markets to the workforce from all Member States, and therefore also for EU citizens from Rumania and Bulgaria, and I call on the Commission not to allow an unnecessary extension of existing measures relating to these workers. Such a step would not, in my opinion, be in accordance with the spirit and aims of the Treaty on European Union and on the functioning of the EU, or with the legally-binding Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which clearly states in Article 45 that every EU citizen has the right to freedom of movement and freedom to reside within the territory of the Member States.

 
  
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  Elena Băsescu (PPE).(RO) I sincerely hope that the restrictions preventing Romanian and Bulgarian workers from accessing the European labour market will not be retained after 2011 as well.

I do not think that we should allow certain fears without any economic and social justification to be exploited politically and end up restricting the free movement of workers.

Labour migration from new Member States has boosted economic growth in the EU and had a limited impact on wages and unemployment in the deregulated markets. In addition, during the crisis, mobile workers have been hit even harder than workers from host countries, as they have been the first to be made redundant.

Finally, against the background of the debates on the Roma problem in France, I feel it is necessary to carry out an analysis of the level of integration of migrant workers from new Member States. The adjustment of these workers to local regulations must also be monitored where access to the labour market has been deregulated.

 
  
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  Vasilica Viorica Dăncilă (S&D).(RO) It is absolutely imperative that European Union policies on the free movement of workers recognise the fundamental social rights of European citizens and those who have recently joined the EU, in their countries of origin and host countries alike.

The European Union must adopt immediately a common standards framework which will regulate the admission of workers from new Member States to the labour market.

As long as social policies do not offer any guarantees in these areas, a large number of citizens and workers throughout the EU will find it difficult to accept any legislative proposal for promoting legal channels supporting the free movement of workers in Europe.

The Commission must enforce in a uniform manner the rights and obligations deriving from the status of being a European Union citizen, both for old and new Member States. I am referring in this instance to Romanian and Bulgarian workers’ right to freedom of movement.

 
  
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  Ilda Figueiredo (GUE/NGL).(PT) The recent mass expulsions of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens carried out by the French Government show the serious consequences of the temporary restrictions which are affecting the citizens of new Member States within the European Union. Apart from the severity of racism and xenophobia at state level, which is affecting Roma or gypsy citizens in an unacceptable way, what the governments of France and other EU Member States are trying to hide with these measures is also the failure of their neoliberal policies, which are bringing about unemployment and poverty.

The key issue here therefore is ascertaining whether the European Commission, the Council and the national governments are prepared to focus on a policy of increasing jobs with rights and social progress, which can ensure well-being for all and end discrimination between citizens who are all Europeans. That is the challenge that we face, Commissioner.

 
  
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  Seán Kelly (PPE). – Mr President, this is an interesting subject. Freedom of movement should be an essential right for all Europeans. Many workers from across the Union have benefited from that freedom and many countries have benefited accordingly.

In my own country, during the Celtic Tiger years, we benefited hugely from the influx of labour, particularly from the eastern countries. They made a great contribution and helped to create the Celtic Tiger, but now the Celtic Tiger is dead and Ireland is seen as a negative country. Many people are leaving the country and many young people, in particular, cannot find employment.

Looking at it in the long term, the only way to guarantee true freedom of movement of workers would be to have common remuneration rates right across the European Union and common social benefits. That is a long way off and, particularly in these recessionary times, it is almost foolish to be talking about it. Ultimately, that is the way to guarantee the situation and ensure the freedom that we long to achieve.

 
  
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  Peter Jahr (PPE).(DE) Mr President, it is true that the free movement of workers within the European Union is an important indicator of the internal perfection of the EU. It is also true that in the near future, the free movement of workers is something which we will come to take for granted.

However, where there are major differences between the income levels and, in particular, the regulatory systems in the Member States, we need to put in place appropriate transitional periods. This is all about generating trust between people. Transitional periods are an essential means of enabling people to move closer together on a friendly basis. However, transitional periods last for a limited time. We are in favour of this, but we also need to have an informed discussion about extending these periods.

 
  
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  John Dalli, Member of the Commission. – Mr President, to conclude, the transitional arrangements are there to help Member States avoid labour market disturbances following the accession of new Member States, and not simply to delay application of the free movement of workers to those nationals until the end of the transitional period.

As Mrs Parvanova has said, the biggest asset we have is our citizens, and we must keep pushing for free movement in order to be able to attain an effective single market in the labour sector.

Mr Kalfin also mentioned health workers as an example of the movement of workers. I must say, at this point, that we are seeing health workers being poached from the new countries by countries that are maintaining these restrictions, and this is sometimes to the detriment of the new Member States. Therefore, I agree with Mr Kalfin that we should appeal to Member States to lift restrictions as soon as possible.

The Commission will not only continue to monitor how Member States apply these transitional arrangements, but will also continue to promote specific activities to combat undeclared work, in cooperation with the Member States.

More importantly, it will continue to encourage Member States to re-examine their decisions on restricting access to the labour market for Bulgarian and Romanian workers in the light of the situation of their labour markets.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Ioan Enciu (S&D), in writing.(RO) The Commission’s report from November 2008 indicates that the mobility flows in the wake of the EU’s enlargement in 2007 had a positive impact overall. At the moment, Member States retaining internal labour market restrictions should review their position. Although, according to the transitional arrangements in the Accession Treaty signed by Romania and Bulgaria, restricting the right to work is not an act of discrimination, now that so much time has elapsed since accession, it is not normal and moral for such restrictions to be retained in the area of freedom, security and justice. It is time for the Commission to take action to convince the Member States which are still retaining restrictions to lift them. How can we explain to the EU’s Romanian and Bulgarian citizens that in this House we, their elected representatives, can offer equal labour rights to all legal immigrants, but cannot do anything for them? The Commission and Member States must act in the EU spirit and put into practice the free movement of their citizens.

 
  
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  Jaromír Kohlíček (GUE/NGL), in writing. (CS) The free movement of labour is a perennial thorny issue in the European Union. Why should the Commission have to consider measures for opening up the market specifically in the case of Bulgaria and Rumania? In the current economic crisis, it would surely be far better to find excuses ‘justifying’ the opening up of the labour market.

It is a well-known fact that all of the so-called new Member States of the EU are populated by second-class citizens. The question for the Commission should rather be: What do you intend to do about it? By the way, in the recruitment of staff to look after the technical side of running EU institutions, the requirement is still to be proficient in two of the 11 languages of the original 15. Or has this rule now been changed? If we take a look, ladies and gentlemen, at our parliamentary passes, we still see in them – more than six years after the EU expanded to include the countries of central Europe – only the 11 languages of the ‘old’ 15. Is that not also discrimination against the new Member States? Also, does it comply with the Treaty of Lisbon and with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights?

 
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