EU Tries to Fix Migrant Worker Rules

The newest member states' push to end work barriers for their citizens will likely feature during upcoming talks about migration of African workers

While the European Commission is busy planning measures to boost jobs for legal immigrants to the EU, the union's new member states are demanding work barriers against their citizens should be dropped first.

Free movement of labour is one of the basic principles of the EU, but some western European countries have introduced temporary restrictions towards workers from ex-communist states in a bid to prevent an increase of job seekers.

Romanian president Traian Basescu - representing one of the two newest members after his country joined the EU along with Bulgaria this year - on Sunday (4 February) harshly criticized existing work barriers.

Speaking on Romanian TV, he blamed European employers for illegally hiring Romanian workers on the black labour market.

"Not only are Romanians guilty, but, at least as guilty are the employers of the EU countries who illegally employ them on low salaries," he said, according to press reports.

He was particularly referring to the UK which symbolically came to represent the key free movement advocate before the EU's 2004 enlargement to central Europe, but closed its doors to the two Black Sea countries.

"What we are upset about is the different treatment for Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK, compared to the first 10 countries which joined the Union in 2004," commented Mr Basescu.

Britain introduced a temporary ban on Romanian and Bulgarian workers partly due to a much larger than expected inflow of workers from central Europe.

IMMIGRANTS AHEAD OF EU CITIZENS?Meanwhile, the argument about the need to drop the work barriers towards EU citizens is likely to feature during talks about a boost to legal migration suggested by the commissioner for justice and security Franco Frattini.

Mr Frattini told the European Parliament's civil liberty committee last week about his plans to engage national governments in setting out quotas for African workers who could come to work in Europe so as to meet its labour needs.

"I am going to ask the Council of Ministers to establish quotas, then the European Commission can negotiate an agreement with the country of origin," he was quoted as saying by the Brussels-based weekly European Voice.

He was referring to the interior ministers meeting on 15-16 February just after the first centre to identify Africans willing to work in Europe opens in Mali early this month.

The commission points out that agriculture, tourism and public works are the main areas where EU countries lack workers, with Mr Frattini stressing that under his plan, African workers would return home when such seasonal work was finished.

Legal immigration is favoured also as a way of tackling the looming aging population problems in Europe, with less children being born and people living longer set to pose a burden on state budgets for pensions and shortages in their labour forces.

In a report last year by the European Parliament on the issue however, MEPs stressed that the free movement of EU job seekers across the bloc should come prior to measures aiming to boost immigration from third countries.

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