PositionFree movement of workers

The Foreign Ministers' debate on enlargement, initially scheduled for lunch on May 5, was finally deferred until the afternoon at the request of the German Minister Joschka Fischer, whose arrival was delayed. In the end, the debate spilled over into the morning of Sunday May 6. The Presidency was keen to secure a commitment from Member States to agreeing a common position closing the chapter on the free movement of workers by the Gothenburg European Council in June. This is the first of the politically sensitive dossiers addressed through the inter-governmental accession conference. Germany and Austria have demanded a seven-year transition period, the Austrian Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, expressing her Government's desire to protect domestic workers and only gradually open employment markets. She suggested that with the candidate countries demanding more than 500 derogations and transition periods, there is no reason why current Member States should not do lay down demands of their own. The European Commission has presented an extremely flexible compromise to settle this issue, but its approach is challenged not only by the candidate countries, but also by certain Member States, notably Spain. Madrid's support for the free movement of workers from the East is however motivated by barely disguised interests. Recalling the recent publication of a Government memorandum on regional policy in the context of an enlarged Europe, the Spanish Minister, Josep Pique indicated that Spain is ready to show solidarity with countries that recognise its own difficulties. According to Eurostat forecasts, in a twenty-seven member Union, the relative wealth of the current so-called cohesion countries (Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland) will automatically increase in view of the average being drawn downwards by the accession of poorer countries. Seven Spanish regions would thus no longer be eligible for Objective 1 of regional policy, only Galicia, Extremadura and Andalusia remaining under the threshold of 75% of average per capita GDP.This difference developed into something of a dispute at the start of the session. Joschka Fischer denounced the policy link established by Madrid between the future of the Structural Funds and the demand from Germany and Austria for a transition period for the free movement of workers. Turning to his Spanish colleague, Mr Fisher questioned whether the word "solidarity" was entirely appropriate since free movement costs nothing whereas structural policy is very costly. He nevertheless added that with the financial package due to be reviewed in 2006, Germany remains ready to negotiate a fair compromise at the appropriate time. Mr Pique responded that Spain has no intention of delaying enlargement and that his Government's memorandum would in no way prevent the accession of new members. On the contrary, he suggested that enlargement would suffer if...

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