EU Permits Spanish Labor Curbs
EU Agrees as Spain Reimposes Restrictions on Romanian Workers

The EU, citing Spain's unemployment crisis, has given Spain the right to restrict entry of Romanian workers.

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Amiel Ungar,

Jose Zapatero
Jose Zapatero

One sign of the crisis in the European Union is a spate of temporary permits. A few months back it was acquiescence to France's sealing its border with Italy to prevent an influx of refugees primarily from Tunisia. When Denmark stepped up border policing, the EU chose to look the other way.

Now the European Union has given Spain dispensation to restrict the number of Romanian workers looking for jobs in Spain.

Quietly Romanians have become the largest immigrant group in Spain and 800,000 Romanians are living there. Many came during the building boom that has recently gone sour .

Spanish unemployment is at 20% and youth unemployment is at a staggering 50%.

Before the current crisis, Spain's Socialist government was very welcoming to immigrants in general and even fast tracked illegal immigrants to citizenship.

The opposition Popular Party was more selective and favored immigration from Latin America. In contrast, it favored an "assimilation contract" for Third World immigrants particularly those from Muslim countries.

Spain's liberal policy once attracted criticism from other EU leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who regarded Spain as a conduit to citizenship in the European Union.

The EU is built on the principle of the free movement of labor between EU countries. That makes economic sense in good times, but in bad times is detrimental to the country accepting the foreign workers.

Eastern European countries who recently joined the EU were subject to a seven-year moratorium that allowed the more veteran EU members to restrict immigration. As Romania entered the EU in 2007, one can apply these restrictions until 2014; the same applies to Bulgaria.

What is unique is that Spain had already lifted such restrictions early, in 2009. Now it is being forced to reimpose them. Laszlo Andor, the EU's Social Affairs Commissioner, expressed his hope that "this move will be limited in time as much as possible and an overall positive attitude towards free movement in Europe will continue to prevail."

The situation is different from that of Britain where East Europeans, particularly the Poles, have found jobs that native Britons would not take or were unqualified for.

Thirty percent of the Romanians living in Spain are unemployed as compared with 11% before the bad economic times. However, once admitted they are eligible for unemployment benefits on the same scale as Spanish unemployed.