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Østudvidelsen og arbejdskraften

Myter og realiteter

Anne Mette Vestergaard og Catharina Sørensen

Dansk Institut for Internationale Studier 2004, 96 s.
Bogomtale fra forlaget.

Free movement of labour was one of the most difficult questions during the negotiations on EU enlargement. Memories of life before the fall of the Berlin Wall were still acutely present in everybody’s mind. Back then borders were sternly guarded and foreign travel was not within reach for ordinary citizens of Central and Eastern Europe. The right to travel and work without restrictions is therefore of great symbolic importance to citizens of the 10 new member states of the EU.

The negotiations resulted in a sensitive compromise, which leaves it up to the individual member state to make its own choice: Either to open up the labour market from the very first date of enlargement, i.e. May 1st 2004, or to maintain restrictions for new EU citizens throughout a transitional period. This choice has sensitive political implications in all member states.

The political decision-making process is complicated by the fact that no clear, bullet-proof forecasts exist regarding the magnitude of migration from new to old member states. Migration theory offers some clues as to future tendencies and several studies of migration seek to predict tomorrow’s trends. A general conclusion is that a relatively modest number of Central and East Europeans will turn to the current EU member states in search of employment. Expectations for the immediate period after enlargement vary between 140.000 and 240.000 migrants per year including the migrant’s family members – and spread out across the entire EU.

Denmark does not appear as a first priority on the new EU citizen’s wish-list. A rough – and liberal – estimation is that enlargement yearly will bring some 2000 new Central and East Europeans to Denmark. The typical migrant will be a seasonal worker, while the highly educated can be difficult to attract.

With enlargement approaching, an increasing number of popular concerns have been aired. A review of the Danish debate reveals that the majority of worries boil down to the fear of a massive influx of citizens from the new member states. This implies that if an ‘invasion’ does not occur, fears of, for instance, pressure on wages and social benefits are likely to diminish considerably. On the contrary, the concern about a future shortage of labour would gain in importance. As all major studies point to a modest migration potential, it is up to politicians to decide whether they will play it safe by introducing transitional measures or whether they choose to give equal rights to new and old EU citizens and only make use of the safety mechanism inscribed in the enlargement treaty in case of problems.

In Denmark the decision has fallen out in favour of a "safe" solution, with the introduction of a "soft transition period": an opening up of the labour market with specific conditions attached to work permits given to citizens from Central and Eastern Europe. Depending on temper, the coming EU citizens will now rejoice over the new opportunities that enlargement, after all, does represent to them on the Danish job market, or they will mourn the fact that they do not achieve exactly the same rights as other EU citizens in the first years after enlargement.