Living and working conditions

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Rules on the free movement of workers

One of the European Union’s most cherished principles is the free movement of workers – a right enshrined in the founding EU treaty.
In fact, every EU citizen has the right to live, work, look for a job and retire in any of the EU’s 27 Member States. EU rules on the free movement of workers also apply to countries belonging to the European Economic Area, namely Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Non-discrimination and equal treatment
No EU Member State has the right to deny an EU citizen access to its labour market on the grounds of nationality.
Community laws also ensure that EU citizens must receive equal treatment when they apply for a job in another Member State. Cross-border workers must also be treated in the same way as national employees.
People moving to another EU country for work should know that family members have the same rights to education and social security as citizens in the host country.
Jobs in the public sector
In principle, public sector jobs are also open to EU citizens. However, in certain circumstances, EU countries can reserve public sector posts for their own nationals. Such jobs relate to safeguarding the state’s interests and restrictions must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Nationals of other Member States can apply for most public sector jobs in areas such as education, public health and public security.
Transitional Measures
When the EU expanded in 2004 and 2007, Member States were allowed to impose some ‘transitional measures’ which limited free movement of workers from new entrants.
However, this transitional period is coming to an end. Restrictions on workers from the countries that joined the EU in 2004 expired on 1 May 2011. Some restrictions on workers from Bulgaria and Romania – who joined the EU in 2007 – are still in place, but will only apply until 31 December 2013.
Further benefits
Furthermore, citizens who are unemployed and looking for a job have the right to live in another EU country for a certain period while they search for work. They can even have their unemployment benefits paid in the country they are visiting. Initially this can be for up to three months, although it is possible to extend the transfer period to a maximum of six months.
Social security rights and educational qualifications
EU countries are working towards mutual recognition of educational qualifications and ever-closer coordination of social security systems, which should make it easier for people to move abroad for work.
Nevertheless, it is still worth bearing a couple of questions in mind when making the decision to move within the EU:
  • Will my educational attainment and qualifications be recognised and understood by another Member State?
  • Will I and my family receive comparable levels of social security coverage and benefits should we make the move?
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Text last edited on: 02/2012

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