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Labour market restrictions lifted for Bulgarian and Romanian workers

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Four EU Member States – Greece, Spain, Hungary and Portugal – have now opened up their labour markets to Bulgarian and Romanian workers, enabling SMEs in these countries to recruit more widely.

"I welcome the fact that more Member States have decided to lift remaining restrictions to their labour markets for Bulgarian and Romanian workers. I continue to encourage Member States who still impose restrictions to lift them as soon as possible: it makes economic sense. The economic downturn is not a reason to keep restrictions. Free labour mobility is self-regulatory and provides a much needed flexibility in both directions: workers go to where there is demand for labour, not to be unemployed in another country." Vladimír Špidla, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities.

These four countries join ten other Member States in providing unfettered labour market access to workers from the EU’s newest countries.

Moreover, Denmark has announced that it will lift its restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers from 1 May 2009, when it will also end restrictions on workers from the EU-8 (the Member States that joined the EU in May 2004, except Malta and Cyprus).

The loosening of restrictions is good news for Europe’s SMEs as they will be able to recruit more widely.

The change in status marks the end of the first phase of transitional arrangements for Bulgarian and Romanian workers, which expired on 31 December 2008. Those arrangements saw 15 Member States impose restrictions on the free movement of workers from the two countries – usually in the form of a work permit system.

Those Member States which continue to restrict access to their labour markets can end the restrictions at any time during the second transitional phase, which ends on 31 December 2011. After that, EU countries can only maintain their restrictions under special circumstances.

In any event, all restrictions on workers from Bulgaria and Romania must by lifted by 31 December 2013. This deadline will herald full free movement for all EU workers across the 27 Member States.

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