(CN) – Spain can block Romanian workers from getting jobs in the country, which has been hit hard by the economic recession, the European Commission said.
EU member states are required to allow foreign workers access to their job markets. Most do not require work permits for citizens of any EU country.
Free movement “is one of the fundamental freedoms of the EU,” according to the European Commission. “It has had a positive economic impact overall on the European economy. Recent estimates suggest that the long-term impact of the population flows between 2004 and 2009 on the GDP of the EU-15 was 0.9%.”
The Act of Accession, which allowed Romania’s entrance to the EU in 2005, provided that member states would gradually expand Romanian access to their workforce. Full access was mandated by 2014.
Until now, Romanian workers had free access to 16 of the 26 states’ labor markets. The other member states maintain work permit systems for Romanian workers.
Spain granted Romanian workers unlimited access to its labor market in January 2009, causing the number of Romanians living in Spain to jump from 388,000 to 823,000 in two years. Romanians now make up the largest group of foreign EU citizens in the country.
Since that agreement, however, Spain’s economy has been hurting. The country now has the highest unemployment rate in the union at 21 percent, compared to the EU average of 9.4 percent.
On July 28, Spain sent a letter the European Commission invoking the Act of Accession’s “safeguard clause,” cutting off Romanian access to its labor market.
Such action can only be taken if an EU country is “undergoing or foresees serious labor market disturbances.” The commission approved the agreement Monday.
Spain must now provide the commission with updates on the labor situation every three months.
“Spain has always supported the free movement of workers and this is only a transitory measure to protect local workers – including Romanians already residing in Spain,” the commission said in a statement.
Spain is the first EU state to invoke the safeguard clause. Whether others will follow suit remains to be seen.
“We have no information suggesting other member state intends to invoke the ‘safeguard clause,'” the Commission optimistically reported.