LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH
LONDON Millions of people from Eastern Europe will be eligible to work and settle in Britain from the moment their countries join the European Union in 18 months, the government has announced.
Britain is to waive its right under the accession treaty to delay extending full work opportunities to new members for up to seven years. This could make the country the main target for migrant workers, campaigners said, as Germany and other major economies impose restrictions on movements from the east.
The accession treaty, signed by leaders in Copenhagen last weekend, cleared the way for Poland, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to join the European Union.
The government said that allowing workers from these countries into Britain at the earliest opportunity would help the economy. But Oliver Letwin, a spokesman for the opposition Conservative Party, challenged the government to explain why it had not made use of the transitional arrangements.
“We live on a small and crowded island,” he said. “Why does the government consider it appropriate not to have transitional controls when other EU countries have imposed them?”
Germany, fearful of a large influx of migrant workers, will strictly control immigrant flow from applicant countries for up to seven years, although there are exceptions for various professions, and additional agreements could allow more in.
Besides Britain, only Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Greece have said they will open their labor markets fully to the new EU members May 1, 2004.
Citizens of Malta and Cyprus, which also are joining, will not be subject to employment restrictions.
The government said it did not expect any large movements of labor.
But the European Commission estimated last year that there would be 335,000 additional net migrants a year if immediate freedom of movement were allowed. Of these, up to 150,000 would be workers and the remainder dependants.
There are already 850,000 people from Central and Eastern European countries in the European Union legally and possibly 1 million illegally.