March 2001

"EU reveals its real character"

The principle of placing the freedom of movement of goods, services and capital ahead of free movement of labour is attacked in a leading article in the Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet (17 March 2001), published in Helsinki. In the editorial, Björn Månsson describes this principle as "dubious".

Månsson writes that the fact that the other three freedoms are more holy than free movement of labour becomes clearer than ever when the EU is preparing to accept new member countries in Central and Eastern Europe. He points out that some kind of transition periods for the free movement of people will be discussed during the membership negotiations.

"None of the countries which have applied for membership have proposed such arrangements. This can be interpreted to mean that they are not afraid that their citizens — not even those whom one normally means when one talks about the brain drain — will leave their home countries and look for work in some other current EU country.

"On the other hand, many of these member countries have demanded different kinds of transition arrangements. Also Finland joined them yesterday when the government's EU select committee discussed our line in the enlargement talks."

Månsson points out that earlier experiences with poorer countries like Spain and Portugal showed that fears of mass emigration of labour to rich countries was considerably exaggerated. He admits, though, that income gaps between Poland and Germany are now much greater than was the case between Spain and France.

"It is, however, in principle extremely dubious to regulate the movement of labour more than that of goods, services and capital. It does reveal that the EU — in spite of all the nice words about a citizens' union — predominantly attends to other requirements for a free market economy. These are the same ones which enterprises also put before everything else. For them it is most important to get access to markets in the new member countries. They don't consider it important to give their citizens the same freedoms which are enjoyed by the citizens of the old member countries. It would in itself be in their interests to hire cheap labour from poorer new member countries but luckily labour legislation and collective labour agreements stop them from doing it."

Månsson admits that a balance must also be struck in order to stop citizens in the current member countries from losing their jobs. But he warns of the dangers of proposed protection clauses in the so-called emergency brake model which would automatically come into force if emigration goes over a certain level. If citizens are aware of a possible stoppage to emigration, some people might decide to emigrate as quickly as possible. Månsson thinks that it would make more sense to use transition periods which would vary from country to country and which would be eventually adjusted downwards rather than upwards.

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