I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to introduce this Bill to this House. The Bill is short and technical in nature and gives effect to the Government's decision on 30 April 2013 to permit access to the Irish labour market for nationals of Croatia upon its accession to the EU from 1 July 2013. The Bill was introduced and supported unanimously by the Seanad, and I look forward to our discussions here today.
I propose to summarise the background and context for the Bill and I will then explain the primary purpose of the Bill before briefly describing its sections. I welcome the cross-party support expressed so far to open access to the Irish labour market to Croatian nationals. The importance of maintaining and developing further Ireland's already excellent relationship with Croatia was acknowledged by all contributors to the debate in the Seanad, and the Government's decision to open access was warmly welcomed by the Croatian deputy prime minister on her recent visit to Ireland. The Government's decision supports Ireland's position on the need for continued EU solidarity and will facilitate productive engagement at EU level in the future. The timing is also opportune in that Croatia will now join the EU just after the conclusion of Ireland's Presidency of the EU, having applied for membership of the EU under Ireland's last Presidency.
I will turn to the background and context for the Bill. On 9 December 2011, Croatia signed the treaty of accession to become the EU's 28th member state and Ireland signed the instrument of ratification for the Croatian accession treaty on 21 September 2012. I understand that the ratification process by the parliaments of all 27 EU member states is concluded and that the accession of Croatia to the EU is to take place on 1 July 2013. At its meeting on 30 April 2013, the Government considered the EU accession of Croatia and, based on Forfás analysis and other information available to my Department, agreed to permit access to the Irish labour market for nationals of Croatia upon its accession to the EU from 1 July 2013. This decision reflects the low likelihood that Croatia's entry to the EU could have a distortionary impact on the Irish labour market. The Government agreed, therefore, that transitional arrangements should not be applied in the case of Croatian nationals seeking to work in Ireland following Croatia's accession to the EU.
The Government considered a number of factors when making its decision. It is highly unlikely that significant numbers of Croatians wish to migrate to Ireland given that Ireland's current economic status presents a very weak pull factor for Croatians and also international studies show that migration is heavily influenced by existing migrant populations and established social networks in the destination country. There is not a sufficient population of Croatians in Ireland at present to create an attracting factor. There is a very low propensity for Croatians to emigrate and where they do, they tend to emigrate to neighbouring European countries or North America. The size of Croatia's labour force is relatively small, with a total labour force of 1.78 million, with some 350,000 people in the 25 to 34 age group, which is generally the most mobile demographic of a country's population. Ireland's labour market, in line with EU obligations, is already open to an EU work force of 229 million people.
The Government decision pertains only to employment and Croatians would, in any event, enjoy certain rights afforded to all EU citizens from 1 July and would therefore be able to reside in Ireland subject to the residence directive. Such nationals will be able to study, work as self-employed, or establish businesses here, and applying restrictions to employment when it is possible to work as self-employed can increase the potential for undeclared work. Experience suggests that opening access to the Irish labour market may not have a significant impact on the State's services. The experience in respect of Bulgaria, a country with a labour market twice the size of Croatia and to which Ireland gave full access to its labour market in 2012, suggests that only a modest increase arose in respect of PPS registrations, which could not be described as having a distortionary impact on the Irish labour market. The rate of employment permit grants to nationals of Croatia has been running at approximately 12 per annum. At a practical level, were Ireland to restrict access to the labour market for nationals of Croatia, a separate employment permits system would have to be maintained to manage approximately 12 employment permits which would be difficult to justify.
As I have already mentioned, the Government also noted that Ireland has an excellent relationship with Croatia and that it is important this relationship is developed further for the benefit of both countries. It should be remembered that this is a reciprocal agreement which may benefit our nationals as well. As Ireland is opening access to its labour market to Croatian nationals, so too will Croatia open access to its labour market to Irish nationals.
With regard to the need for this legislation, under section 2 of the Employment Permits Acts 2003 to 2006, a foreign national is not required to have an employment permit where there is an entitlement to be in employment in the State pursuant to rights from the treaties governing the European Communities, including treaties as amended by the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Croatia. However, under paragraph 2 of annex V of the treaty, the entitlement of Croatian nationals to employment for the first two years post-accession must be provided either by way of national measures or measures resulting from bilateral agreements. Therefore, a legislative amendment to the Employment Permits Act 2003 is required in order to exempt Croatian nationals from the requirement for an employment permit while not conferring any greater rights than those included in the treaty.
As I have already stated, the Bill is short and very technical in nature and it is hoped to be enacted by 1 July 2013. I will turn to the content of the Bill and outline briefly the content and purpose of the provisions, section by section. Section 2(1) (a) gives Croatian nationals employment rights equivalent to other EU nationals for the first two years post-accession and section 2(1)(b) ensures that Croatian nationals have the same employment rights as other EU nationals after the first two years post-accession. Section 2(2) ensures that the family members of Croatian workers have the same entitlements as the family members of other EU workers.
Section 3 amends the Employment Permits Act 2003 so that Croatian nationals who have equivalent EU employment rights do not need an employment permit.
In conclusion, I would be happy to expand on any of the provisions during the course of this debate if Deputies wish to raise any particular issues and we will have an opportunity during Committee Stage to examine the Bill in detail. I look forward to hearing the contributions of Deputies during this debate and to the co-operation of the House in securing the Bill's early enactment. I commend this Bill to the House.