On Friday, the Czech Republic closed the 21st of the 31 chapters of legislation it has to harmonise with the EU prior to accession. The chapter on the free movement of people and labour, which has been fiercely debated, was finally, and reluctantly, accepted by the Czech government on Friday. Although the Czech Republic managed to negotiate better conditions than some of the other front-running candidates, certain labour movement restrictions will remain in force. The main supporters of the restrictions were Germany and Austria, who fear a huge surge of cheap labour from eastern European countries when the borders open. The restrictions would last for a minimum of two years or a maximum of seven years following accession. Not all EU countries deem the restrictions necessary, Sweden and Holland have stated that they will not impose any restrictions and their job markets will be open from day one.
Radio Prague's talked to Petr Jezek, the Director of the European Integration department at the Czech Foreign Ministry about what the free movement of people chapter entails and why the chapter was concluded if restrictions will remain after accession.....
"Basically the free movement of people, including workers, is one of the basic freedoms among the internal market of the European Union. So, in theory, this chapter should allow the citizens of new member states to work in current member states after the enlargement of the EU. But, as you know, some member states especially neighbouring ones were afraid that there would be quite a significant influx of working force into their markets, although, we were not given any specific figures to substantiate them. As a result of this fear, the EU agreed on a common position, which includes some restrictions. This means that when we join the EU there will not be automatic free movement of labour."
You mentioned that it is neighbouring countries that are most concerned, is this why Germany and Austria imposed these restrictions while Sweden and Holland do not feel the need?
"Those who are the closest neighbours fear that there may be an influx and of course the majority of central Europeans would like to, or are working in neighbouring countries. There are already four EU countries which announced that they would not apply restrictive measures and they would open up their markets from the moment of enlargement. And we hope that the number of countries that freely open their borders will increase."
So how long do you think these restrictions will be in place?
"Well, the possibility is two years after enlargement and then a sort of evaluation will take place. Those who will substantiate their claims that there markets are under threat could prolong the restrictions another three years."
Why did the Czech Republic agree to close the chapter with these restrictions in place?
"It was not realistic to think that another regime could be agreed upon. Of course what they asked for at the very beginning was 7 years and now we have agreed to two years at the beginning and more flexibility on the part of the EU members so they can renounce that measure."
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