The European Union (EU) celebrated the one-year anniversary of its historic enlargement from 15 to 25 members in May 2005, but the majority of its new citizens still face obstacles to living and working in most of the EU-15. Some of those barriers will start to come down in 2006.
Only the UK, Ireland, and Sweden have allowed accession-state nationals to work without permits since accession day, May 1, 2004. Over 230,000 Eastern Europeans had registered to work in the UK by June 30, a migration that some are already calling one of the largest in recent decades. The British Home Office has stated that these workers are helping to fill gaps in the labor market though some natives in the manual trades have complained of depressed wages.
An estimated 128,000 Poles, Latvians, and Lithuanians had registered to work in Ireland as of August 2005 while Sweden had registered about 16,000 from the accession states, mostly from Poland, as of October.
Although the EU is most likely years away from creating an EU-wide immigration policy, November marked the first time an EU leader has put forth a labor migration idea that could affect all Member States. EU Justice, Freedom, and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini has proposed a "job-seeker's permit," which some have called a "green card," that would allow highly skilled immigrants who receive the permit from any one Member State to work in any industry in all 25 EU countries.
This year also saw the failure of the EU constitution with strong "no" votes from France and the Netherlands. Some analysts pointed to integration (see Issue #1) as a cause of the rejection, but long-lingering EU Member States publics' distrust of Brussels, discontent with their governments' policy posture on a number of key issues, and anxiety about the social and economic direction of the Union were equally powerful motives.
For more information, please see the following articles:
• Schengen and the Free Movement of People Across Europe
• The Hague Program Reflects New European Realities
• EU Enlargement and the Limits of Freedom
• The Roma of Eastern Europe: Still Searching for Inclusion
• The Challenges of Integration for the EU
• EU Membership Highlights Poland's Migration Challenges
• The Czech Republic: From Liberal Policy to EU Membership
• Hungary: Transit Country Between East and West
• United Kingdom: Rising Numbers, Rising Anxieties
• Ireland: A Crash Course in Immigration Policy