The New Year has brought with it the lifting of restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian workers in Greece, Spain and Denmark, but a number of EU states will be keeping barriers to their labour markets for three more years.
Greece on Wednesday (31 December) became the latest "old" EU member to lift restrictions for Bulgarian and Romanian workers, following Spain and Denmark which set the example earlier in December.
"The Greek government has reached this decision after assessing all parameters. With this move, illegal work will diminish. The reasons [to work illegally] will be very much reduced, as workers from Bulgaria and Romania now become just as competitive as the Greek ones, if not more," the secretary general of the Greek labour ministry was quoted as saying by Bulgarian news agency Bgnes.
For its part, Spain has issued a declaration saying that "the moratorium [on Bulgarian and Romanian workers] has been unfair and fruitless," according to a statement published on the Bulgarian foreign ministry's website.
Madrid also believes that the two countries' growing economies would encourage their workers to stay home rather than look for a job abroad.
By contrast, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Belgium have announced in the last weeks that they would keep their labour markets closed to Bulgarians and Romanians for a second period of three years, citing the economic downturn as the main reason.
Since Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, other EU member states have been able to restrict access to their labour markets for the "new" workers for a set period of a maximum of seven years, after which all of them must fully open up.
For the first two years of their membership, Bulgarians and Romanians have faced such restrictions in most states, except for Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.
In countries where barriers have remained, workers from the two "newcomers" need a work permit accompanied by lengthy and heavy administrative procedures—simplified for certain professions in some of member states—to be legally employed.
In November, the European Commission encouraged all EU countries to lift remaining barriers, arguing that the new workers had not caused "serious disturbances" on labour markets, nor had they flooded them, as some had feared.
Additionally, it stressed that those workers had contributed to the economic growth by bringing more manpower where it was most needed, and had had "little or no negative impact" on wages and unemployment levels.