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Last Updated: Friday, 28 April 2006, 23:02 GMT 00:02 UK
More EU members ease labour curbs
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The EU eventually wants to phase out all labour restrictions
Four of the EU's 15 older member states say they will lift curbs on letting in workers from the 10 newer, mostly east European, members of the bloc.

Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain have so far kept out workers from states that joined the EU in May 2004.

They now joining Sweden, Ireland and the UK in lifting all curbs on workers from the newer member states.

An EU official welcomed the move, noting that 17 of the bloc's 25 members now allow workers to move freely.

"This is a big step forward," European Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said.

Besides the 17 states to have altogether abolished curbs on the movement of labour, he said most of the other member states had eased their restrictions.

"This will give a strong impetus to those member states that have kept restrictions," Mr Spidla said, adding that he hoped "they will make use of the possibility in the accession treaty to gradually lift restrictions in the coming years".

Cheap labour fears

The EU's 15 older members have until this weekend to notify the bloc about whether or not they plan to lift or ease labour restrictions in the short term.

Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg have said they will ease some restrictions on eastern European workers, the AFP news agency reports.

Austria, Denmark and Germany have reportedly said they will largely stick to their existing labour curbs - though they may allow more movement in sectors such as construction or agriculture.

The Netherlands is planning to keep its restrictions in place until the end of the year, when they will be reviewed by the country's parliament, AFP says.

All current restrictions are expected eventually to be phased out, as EU states are not normally allowed to discriminate against workers from within the bloc on the basis of nationality.

However, some older members were allowed to maintain restrictions as part of the terms of entry agreed for the new states.

The older members argued that there was a risk the new states could flood their markets with cheap labour and take jobs from locals.

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