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Page last updated at 15:14 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 16:14 UK

France to let in eastern workers

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, right, and Polish President Lech Kaczynski
Lech Kaczynski (left) praised France's decision as "very important"

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says France will open its labour market in July to migrants from eight EU members in Central and Eastern Europe.

Visiting Poland, Mr Sarkozy said France would lift all the curbs it put in place when the countries joined the bloc four years ago.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski praised France's decision as "very important".

The eight are: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

All of them - formerly in the communist bloc - joined the EU in 2004.

However, jobs in France will remain restricted for workers from Romania and Bulgaria, which joined in 2007.

French presidency

"I confirm that all the barriers will be lifted from July 1, so one year in advance," said Mr Sarkozy.

France had previously announced it would admit the workers from 2009, but brought the move forward to coincide with France adopting the presidency of the EU, on 1 July 2008.

The barriers were put in place by several countries to avoid an influx of labour from the east when the EU expanded in 2004.

Of the 15 states in the EU at the time, only Britain, Ireland and Sweden granted free access to the newcomers.

Economists say the estimated one million immigrants, including many Poles, who arrived in Britain after May 2004 have been a boon to the economy.

Critics, however, say they have put a strain on housing, schools and other services.

About half of the immigrants have since returned home.

All EU states must open their labour markets to the 2004 entrants by 2011. Restrictions are still in place in several countries, including Germany, Austria, Denmark and Belgium.



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