The European Parliament’s civil liberties committee on Monday green lighted the entry of Bulgaria and Romania to the union’s border-free Schengen Area. Yet as many as ten Western European member states will keep their borders closed for Bulgarian and Romanian workers until 2014.
All countries that belong to the European Union are required to implement the Schengen Agreement which eliminated border patrols and custom checks between member states in 1999. Ireland and the United Kingdom are exempt as are the overseas territories of Denmark, France and the Netherlands. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland, although not part of the EU, do belong to the Schengen Area.
Bulgaria and Romania, which both joined the European Union in 2007, have met the necessary conditions for entry. Key to their ascension is their ability to protect Europe’s outer borders. The European Parliament will vote in plenary session on the matter next June after which government leaders are supposed to finalize the agreement unanimously.
Some member states have doubts however about the influx of low paid workers from Eastern Europe. Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands will not allow Bulgarians and Romanians free access to their countries and their labor markets until 2014, nor will Britain and Ireland. They are able to work without special permits in the other seventeen member states already.
In the meantime, there is a loophole. The nationalistic government of Viktor Orbán made it possible this year for people of Hungarian descent living abroad to apply for Hungarian citizenship. Bulgaria, Romania as well as Slovakia are all home to sizable Hungarian minorities. With an Hungarian passport, these people are able to travel to and work wherever they want in Europe.
Temporary work agencies in Western Europe are helping Bulgarians and Romanians apply for a double passport. Most of these people are seasonal workers who are employed in agriculture, filling job vacancies that locals aren’t interested in.
This same week, Austria and Germany were the last two European countries to open their borders to the ten that joined the union in 2004. Germany expects to welcome especially many Polish laborers, up to 100,000 a year. The government is trying to assure people and the country’s labor unions that their pay won’t be undercut by workers from across the border.