Germany May Admit Eastern Workers

Because of a labor shortage, Merkel and Co. may loosen or do away with restrictions on workers from new EU member countries

Germany is set to consider relaxing or dropping labour barriers against job seekers from the new EU member states due to a rising number of vacancies impossible to fill by domestic workers.

Angela Merkel's cabinet will debate the issue in late August, but Gerd Andres from the labour ministry admitted, "If we continue to suffer from a labour shortage in Germany, we could consider lifting the limits on eastern European labour before 2009," according to the daily Hanoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.

Government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm suggested that the grand coalition of Christian democrats CDU/CSU and social democrats SPD has not yet reached a common position on the matter.

But employers' groups praised the plan to consider a change of the strategy, with Achim Derecks of the German chamber of commerce commenting it was a "good sign" that it was no longer a taboo to consider removing the restrictions before 2009, reports AFP.

Germany and Austria have been the most reluctant of the "old" EU member states to open their labour markets to citizens from eight post-communist countries which joined the bloc in 2004 as well as to Romania and Bulgaria which entered this year.

After taking up the possibility last year to extend their temporary restrictions for another three years, both Berlin and Vienna suggested it was likely they would use the maximum allowed period to keep the barriers - up till 2011.

However, the EU's biggest economy is currently facing a boom accompanied by record unemployment rates - the June statistics showed it was 8.8 percent, the lowest for 14 years.

At the same time, there are almost a million vacancies available in the country's labour market that employers strive to fill due to great shortages of German qualified job seekers.

With a low birth rate and proceeding trends of aging population, experts suggest the country's economic growth could in the long run suffer as a result of such loopholes in the labour force.

Just the opposite in the UK

Free movement of workers - one of the fundamental principles of the union - was originally applied by the UK, Ireland and Sweden only with respect to the 2004 new members states, even though Finland, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece later joined in.

Both the UK and Ireland opted to temporarily close the door to Bulgarians and Romanians as a result of the unexpected surge of migrants.

Before 2004 enlargement, British officials had expected about 15,000 migrant workers a year to arrive in the country, but over 600,000 have taken the plunge in just two years.

The most recent statistics from the UK's Department for Work and Pensions have shown that the country continues attracting the newcomers, with over 320,000 people from central and eastern Europe reported to have come last year.

The figure is higher by 16 percent compared to 2005. On top of that, around 8,000 Romanians and Bulgarians arrived in the UK in a bid to find work, as well as 2,400 seasonal agricultural workers, according to the official report.

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