Sweden and Estonia call for open job market

Estonia and Sweden, one an EU newcomer,the other an old-hand in the bloc, on Monday urged all European Union members to drop restrictions on workers from new members, saying free movement of labour benefits everyone.

“Sweden had intense debates two years ago, when the EU got new members, about whether to place restrictions on the movement of labour from those countries,” Swedish Labour Minister Hans Karlsson told reporters in Tallinn.

“We did not implement any restrictions, and our experience has been only positive,” Karlsson said. “I cannot cite any problem in connection with Estonia or any other new member state.”

Karlsson said about 30 percent of migrant workers in Sweden come from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but the biggest source of guest workers was another new member, Poland.

“These are people who are needed on the Swedish labour market,” he said. “The Swedish experience is only positive, and we are passing it on to those member states who have placed restrictions on the movement of labour.”

Britain, Ireland and Sweden were the only three older EU member states to welcome workers from the bloc’s former communist newcomer states from when they joined the Union in May 2004.

Finland, Portugal and Spain have also recently announced that they will lift restrictions on workers from the newcomer states. “I wish to commend Sweden for its courage in not putting curbs on the movement of labour,” Estonian Social Affairs Minister Jaak Aab said.

“The Swedish experience is living proof that the formation of a common labour market in the EU is beneficial to all,” he said. Aab said he was encouraged by an apparent change in thinking in some EU member states, which are likely to drop restrictions sooner than the originally announced seven-year period from when the newcomers acceded to the bloc.

“I have detected growing flexibility in some of the old EU member states, such as France, which could do away with restrictions in a year or two.”

The free movement of workers has also had a positive effect on the unemployment rate in Estonia, although the outflow of labour has hit some sectors in the Baltic state hard, Aab said.

“Our unemployment rate has gone down markedly… But some sectors such as construction have suffered because our workers have left for Scandinavia.”

About 11,000 people from Estonia, which has a population of 1.3 million, have registered to work in older EU member states which opened their labour markets to newcomer states, but experts believe the true figure to be higher.