A few words about the free movement of workers.


It’s almost common knowledge that the free movement of capital, services and workers are among the fundamental principles in the countries belonging to the European Community. No one denies it because this belongs to the foundations of the European economy and they did a fairly good job defining it in the “eternal city” back in ’57. A beautiful, noble, uplifting and grand thought (and I could use other words learnt in high-school when describing the baroque style)… Being already fed up with European Labour I said to myself why not enlighten myself with the provisions of the Treaty of Rome. Well the first paragraph of article 39 provides us with the following “Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Community”. It’s not a novelty and I quite like the idea of it. In the third paragraph they even state that this right shall be subject to limitations only if public policy, public security and public health require so. So put it this way, you cannot really impose limitations to this fundamental right, or should I say freedom.

Now that the relevant legal provisions are clear, let us continue with our analyses… The “flat broke” student comes from Romania to the Netherlands; he receives 300 euros of scholarship per month from his faculty to cover his expenses, but because it is not even enough to pay his rent and his savings are all but gone he clearly knows what he has to do. He has to work!! No problem because we are members of the EU and there will be some lame job for him to. After tearing out half of his scalp he settles down and accepts the fact that the Dutch system is like that and commences the lengthy paperwork. Different permits, I don’t know what kind of papers and even my granny’s written statement that I am not just wasting my time in this country. And curiously enough one encounters the same reappearing motive. A sort of light motive if I may. The cute (but slightly dumb) lady sitting in one of the institution’s offices explains the procedure; the guy tells her that he is from an EU country. The lovely lady prepares the huge pile of papers and when the guy fills out his nationality (citizenship) her eyes pop out and says…Oh, I’m so sorry. If I recall Romania is not yet part of the EU. Jeeesus, ST. Mary mother of Christ!!! Then what did poor Basescu (Romania’s president) celebrate a year before? After one finally convinces the public employee that the country is part of the EU the grey zone begins (welcome to the twilight zone)…A couple of weeks pass; finally you figure out what papers you really need and realize that it is a lot more than they ask your German compatriot. Oh, sorry. He doesn’t even need papers. One, two, three and finally four months pass and you wake up with a working permit, but of course with the remark that being a student from Romania you are not allowed to work more than 10 hours. Interesting, you don’t get work each week and you can just gather some money to pay for your food and maybe to afford a cheaper trip somewhere. Who even dreamt of the idea of driving home a five year old Opel after gathering some money?

Let’s just spice up the story a little bit more. The German Hanzi most probably doesn’t even need to work as he has plenty of money on his credit card and he doesn’t even have to go through half a year’s worth of paperwork as he can freely move around in the EU. Now I will compare my four months with the time a political refugee needs to find a place to stay and a job and most probably (almost surely) the latter one will work sooner than me. So I have two possibilities: a)either I accept the situation the way it is, or b) I can say that the troops of Basescu occupied my beloved city of Kolozsvar (Cluj-Napoca) and I head to swim up the Danube on a cardboard door and I ended up in Rotterdam after the Rhine’s waves washed me to shore. So the second option seems a little bit far fetched, but maybe I could start working faster, because the majority of people still don’t know that Romania is part of the EU. Let’s just not ask who is the “Sailor”? (nick-name given to the Romanian president).

So now someone back homes asks himself a question and merged in his thoughts arrives at the conclusion that probably the Somali (everybody invokes them; by the way Ethiopia took over half of their country. No food but war is good!) refugee, who swam to the Netherlands in his boat, receives a working permit faster than the law student coming from “the well known EU Member State”. Well I can say that he came to a good conclusion… Of course in the previous paragraphs I’ve mentioned when the right of free movement can be restrained…The answer!!! When public security and policy requires so. It sounds slightly over the top, but the arguments will follow.

Well the Holly Scripture (the Treaty of Rome) says one thing and the Treaty regarding the accession of Romania and Bulgaria write about something else. It’s a 400 page piece of wonder, that in the first article from the Chapter concerning the Free movement of persons states that art.39 and 49 (this one concerns the free movement of services) of the Rome Treaty will only have full effect regarding temporary movement. Furthermore in the second article it points out that until the end of the two year period following the date of accession, the present Member States will apply national measures, or those resulting from bilateral agreements, regulating access to their labour markets by Romanian nationals. The present Member States may continue to apply such measures until the end of the five year period following the date of accession. And look at the miracle we came across. EU this, EU that but you are not welcomed in our countries for a couple of years!!! Of course many believe that this’ll only last two years. Let me just say that the Polish, Hungarians (and of course the Czechs and the others) could only truly savour this freedom from the 1st of January 2007, nearly three years after acceding to the EU. It’s not even a question how much Romania will have to wait.

But I still haven’t presented enough arguments to sustain my claim that indeed these measures really involve public policy and security. The second part of the argument is as follows. What is actually happening in Western countries? What is the present social reality and how was it like half a century ago, when this fairytale began… The curiosity started to bug me and made me look up a couple of older Accession Treaties. As you know the Austrian, Swedish and Finnish joined the big EU familliii in 1995. It naturally implies that you look up the sections dealing with the free movement of workers and services and yet another miracle appears!! The Romanian and Bulgarian sections truly fatten up the Treaty but in the case of the up-mentioned countries only one measly line talks about something that doesn’t even concern us. So it means that they could move around freely from the first moment they acceded. Then where is the injustice?

We dive even deeper into the historical past…I think the six founding members speak for themselves, because there wasn’t any motive they should’ve restricted the free movement. Seriously which German worker fears the French one, or which Luxemburguese fears the Dutch one? … As we find out national law precedes the European Bible only when poorer countries enter the Community. And this is what happened to the Spanish and Portuguese when they acceded. Their Treaty is long and bulky and has numerous provisions regarding free movement. And I hope that by now everyone understands what this is about…We love when workers can move around, but let it not lead to mass migration. The French didn’t go in great masses to work in Germany but everyone knew that the Spanish would go in greater numbers to work in better paying countries. Nothing changed in the last twenty years…God save us from the wave of Polish and Romanians!!! And in a way you can agree with them, because after starting the great economical cooperation they were surprised to see that it can have side-effects to. Let’s take the Dutch example. In the ’60-es they accepted with opened arms tens of thousands of Turkish and Moroccan workers who would rebuild their country after the floods. Those people remained there, became part of society or not (see my previous article about immigrants) and maybe will cause trouble or not. But the country can still control the number of workers it needs. Now let’s take the Italian and Spanish example. As a Romanian citizen it was (is) easier to find a job as there was a huge gap in the labour market and we filled in the task that the Turks and Moroccans did in the Netherlands. But in a few years, after the market is already saturated not even these two states will need the likes of us.

Coming back to the Netherlands we find that the labour market is already saturated if not overflowing. Now who needs in a situation like this, tens of thousands of free moving Polish and Romanians? Nobody. And the two years will last until these countries can once again accept new workers. We still pick strawberries in Spain and they still need us, but in Holland the dikes have been built a long time ago and there is no necessity for us. SO the new problem occurs when not the average worker but the intellectual emigrates. Because in the Dutch example the Turkish or Moroccan will not be the one losing his job, but maybe the Dutch guy who works in an office. Well no one wants that, do they?

The new Eastern states “threaten” the Western society from two fronts. First of all hoards of workers seek for better employment in these countries and second of all, the big multinationals find it cheaper to run an undertaking in the East than in the West. So it’s not enough that the undertakings move to the cheaper countries and they loose their jobs, but this is followed by a wave of workforce that pushes out the native even more from the labour market. It’s obvious that when they signed the Treaty of Rome no one thought that in the future the descendants of those Communist countries will come in their hundred thousands looking for a job with free movement easing there path. This has to be controlled and restricted and that’s why you have Accession Treaties.

The last issue regards the inexistence of borders. We will travel freely in all Europe in a couple of years!! – many of us thought in the benches of high-school. And nothing is that simple. Although maybe we don’t need visas anymore, and the ID card is enough to get across, our situation hasn’t changed much…Two weeks ago I came back to Holland. And something changed. When I first came in August I passed the border in a couple of minutes and now when I came back in January we were upheld for more than an hour at the Romanian-Hungarian border…What happened? Simple. The Schengee border just moved slightly to the East and now Hungary is part of the Schengen zone. Let’s clear things out. Schengen is not equal with the EU and no one should be surprised if we have to wait more at the border than we did before the accession. Until Romania won’t become part of the Schengen zone (Ohh God, we can just wait for that miracle) the border will still be there and the true borderless movement like between France and Germany will just remain a Utopia.

But I would ask a last question if I may, because a lot has been said about the European equality. Who will decline Johann van Poll Dutch citizen to work in Romania?

Utrecht 24th of January 2008



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