Germany, Austria open doors to EU's migrant workers
Germany and Austria became the last two EU members to lift labor market restrictions on workers from Eastern Europe on May 1.
(Page 2 of 2)
Concerns could prove unfounded – as they were in Great Britain, Ireland, and Sweden when those nations opened their markets to Eastern European laborers. On May 2, 2004, reporters flocked in droves to London’s Victoria coach station to film and report on the legions of migrant workers expected to alight. The thin trickle of arrivals they actually found was disappointing, but it was only a harbinger of what was to come.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Sign up for our daily World Editor's Picks newsletter. Our best stories, in your inbox.
Between 2004 and 2009, an estimated 1.5 million people from Eastern Europe came to the UK. It is thought 700,000 of them stayed, with half a million from Poland alone, according to a study by the UK’s National Institute for Economic and Social Research. And they added £5 billion (around $8.3 billion) to the British economy, the study found. Today, Polish delicatessen shops and bakeries are as much a part of London’s scenery as curry houses and halal butchers.
Austria and Germany opted to wait seven years, the maximum delay allowed by the EU, before opening their doors to workers from the eight former communist bloc countries. Indeed, unlike Britain, Germany has always taken a long time to even acknowledge immigration as a fact.
It took Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats until 1991 to erase the phrase “Germany is not an immigration country” from their party program. The debate is ongoing about the way immigrants, particularly those from a Muslim country like Turkey, should be integrated into German society. Today, more than 1.6 million Turks live in Germany, many first brought into the country during the 1950s and 1960s as cheap “Gastarbeiter” (guest workers) for West German industry.
Whether the number of immigrants from Turkey will be matched by those from Germany’s largest neighbor, Poland, for example, remains to be seen. For those with higher education and good language skills, the UK and even the United States will still be more attractive destinations, although there is concern in Poland that well-trained nurses and other medical personnel may leave for Germany.
Many Poles will have good reason to stay home. Poland, the only EU country to get through the recession unharmed, is estimated to grow its economy by 3.8 percent this year. Jacek Robak, a diplomat with the Polish embassy in Berlin, says he checked with the Polish state train operator: “There are still free seats on the trains from Warsaw to Berlin!”