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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
EU backs free movement principle
Polish seasonal worker in Germany
Germany has given as many people jobs as other large EU countries
The European Union has promised "major steps" to make full freedom of movement a reality within its 25 member states.

Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla made the pledge a day after eight of the EU's "old" members renewed barriers to workers from some new member states.

"I will make major steps to make full freedom of movement available as soon as possible," he said.

The restrictions, forcing migrants from eight ex-Communist states to apply for work permits, must be lifted by 2011.

A distinction between old and new members should become an anachronism
Employment Commissioner, Vladimir Spidla
But Mr Spidla said he wanted more progress by 2009.

Three old EU countries - Ireland, Sweden and the UK - lifted all restrictions on workers from the new member states as soon as they joined, on 1 May 2004.

Four more states - Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain - lifted restrictions on 1 May 2006.

Continuing restrictions

The remaining eight member states are maintaining restrictions for the time being, but some of them will be either abolishing permits in some areas, or making them easier to get.

LABOUR MARKET ACCESS
Subject to restrictions: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia
Not subject to restrictions: Cyprus, Malta
Barriers lifted: Finland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK
Barriers fully maintained: Austria, Germany

"A distinction between old and new members should become an anachronism," Mr Spidla told a news conference.

Germany and Austria are expected to restrict access to their labour markets until 2011, partly because the new ex-Communist member states are so close.

But Mr Spidla said that despite this Germany had issued 500,000 work permits.

"In practice Germany has given as many people work as other big countries," he said.

He added that he did not expect a big influx of workers to the four countries that lifted restrictions this week, because of the language barrier and, in some cases, the distance from Central and Eastern Europe.

Illegals

BBC Central Europe analyst Jan Repa says that very few Poles, Czechs or Hungarians are expected to take advantage of the opening up of the Greek and Portuguese labour markets, because wages there are too low.

About one-third of the quarter of a million or so Poles registered to work in the UK are employed as professionals, such as managers, bankers, doctors, dentists, he says.

He adds that in addition to the 500,000 people working in Germany under contract, an unknown number are working illegally.





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