France to Open Labor Market a Year Early

Sarkozy will lift the remaining restrictions on eastern European workers in the second half of 2008. Currently, permits are required

France is to open its labour markets in the second half of this year to workers from eastern European states that joined the EU in 2004, according to a report in a French daily.

Currently, "new" EU citizens wanting to work in France need a work permit which can be obtained through lengthy administrative procedures, some of which are lighter for a list of 150 job-types including cooks, waiters and computer scientists.

But during his visit to Poland on Wednesday (28 May), the country's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will announce France's intention to lift all the remaining restrictions in the second half of 2008—during the French EU presidency, French financial daily Les Echos reported on Monday.

The move would come almost a year earlier than planned, as in 2006 Paris opted to retain some barriers for workers from Poland, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia until May 2009.

The new offer contains a clause under that, in the event that the French labour market worsen drastically, there is the possibility of re-imposing the restrictions for eastern and central European workers, Les Echos says.

Besides France, only Germany, Austria, Denmark, and Belgium still uphold restrictions against workers from the eastern countries, but talks are currently under way in Belgium to drop the barriers, possibly by July or September this year.

Germany and Austria on the other hand seem the most likely to keep the restrictions until the last legally possible moment in 2011.

In comparison, almost none of the 15 "old" EU member states have fully opened up to workers from Bulgaria and Romania, with Sweden and Finland being among the rare exceptions.

The lifting of the restrictions in France would not concern these two countries—EU members since January 2007—either.

Several analyses have recently called for all barriers to EU workers within the 27-nation bloc to be lifted, pointing out that the "wave" of eastern Europeans that was feared by many never came.

Additionally, a survey released in April showed that many of those who went to work in the UK in 2004—among the first "old" EU states to liberalise its labour market—have already returned home.

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