The success of the eastern EU enlargement debunks current fears | John O'Brennan

From Global development | The Guardian Sat Jan 19 2013, 06:00:01

Migrants from new member states in 2004 and 2007 alleviated labour shortages with no negative impact on wages or conditions

As the EU continues to grapple with a variety of existential challenges, it is easy to forget that the European project has some genuinely significant achievements to its name. By far the most important of these is the successful eastern enlargement of 2004 and 2007, which brought eight former communist countries into the European "club", and extended the European zone of peace and relative prosperity to the Baltic region in the north and the Black Sea in the south.

Yet when the eastern enlargement is mentioned these days, few people tend to talk about peace and fewer still of prosperity. In the public mind, eastern enlargement is viewed almost exclusively through the prism of increased immigration, from east to west and from new to older member states. So how much of this is true?

Eastern enlargement undoubtedly helped to shape the European labour market in dramatic and unanticipated ways. When the new member states acceded to the EU in 2004, only Ireland, Sweden and the UK lifted all restrictions on workers from the new member states. Other countries, such as France and Germany, were much more hesitant about opening up their labour markets and only proceeded to do so on a sector-by-sector basis. Thereafter the patterns of inward migration within the EU diverged considerably.

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