From 1 May 2004, the ten accession countries will be party to the treaties governing the European Communities and their citizens will, in general, enjoy the same rights as current EU citizens. However, this does not apply to provisions for labour market access. In this area, a transitional period was agreed at EU level during which each member state will be able to exercise discretion as to the extent of access to their respective labour markets. The exception to this arrangement provides for full access to the EU labour market for Malta and Cyprus. This transitional period lasts for up to five years following accession, or seven in the case of a serious disruption to the labour market of a member state.
Ireland has decided to afford full labour market access to the nationals of these new member states on the same basis as current EU nationals, with effect from the date of accession. An expanded EU labour market of 25 countries will provide a widened pool of skilled labour from which Irish employers should be able to meet their ongoing skills needs. Furthermore, only some 35% of our overseas labour in recent years has come from the accession states. Clearly, given our continuing need for overseas labour and the relatively high unemployment in some of the accession states, there is ample room to improve the percentage of overseas workers coming from the countries in question. Where my Department is satisfied that the requisite skills are available in the expanded EU, a work permit will not be granted to bring somebody from outside into the EU to fill the vacancy in question. In short, an increase in labour market participation from within the expanded EU will mean a reduced need to attract labour from elsewhere in the world.
All research to date suggests that the impact on the EU labour market of the freedom of movement of workers after accession should be limited. However, it has been predicted that the impact of labour migration would be concentrated in certain frontline member states, resulting in possible disturbances to the labour markets there. It is for this reason that Germany and Austria, in particular, have chosen to retain their current work permit regime for the transitional period. While matters are still developing, it is clear that a number of other member states now propose to continue to manage the opening up of their labour markets and that some are perhaps more concerned about liberal access to their social security system than about access to the labour marketper se. Any question relating to organised crime, be it from within the existing EU or from the new member states, is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.