Sarkozy ends French job ban for Eastern Europeans

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nicolas Sarkozy at the Charlemagne Prize ceremony in 2008.
Image: Aleph.

During a one-day visit to Warsaw on Tuesday French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that his country would lift job restrictions on the citizens of some of the European Union's former communist states. He also promised a deal aimed at bringing Ukraine closer to the bloc but seemed to play down its chances of membership.

France was part of a majority of EU states that imposed employment restrictions on citizens of Poland and other countries that joined the European Union in 2004. The limits now in place for workers from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia will be lifted on July 1. However, jobs in France will remain restricted for workers from Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007.

"I am going to announce this during my speech in Parliament," Sarkozy said when asked about media reports on the matter. "Poland is one of the six great countries of Europe. The EU is based on the free movement of people. Poland is also our strategic partner." Of "old EU" member states, only Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Germany now maintain the ban. Norway and Liechtenstein – non-EU countries that are part of the European Economic Area – also restrict access to their job markets for citizens of the countries that joined the union in 2004. Switzerland, which has bilateral agreements with the EU on free movement of people, also restricts employment for those countries. Under EU law, these restrictions must be lifted by 2011.

Sarkozy also told a joint news conference with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Wednesday that Ukraine would be offered closer cooperation with the European Union during a French presidency of the bloc, which starts on July 1, but said Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told him that Ukraine did not want to join the EU outright.

"I've met with the president of Ukraine and his objective is not membership, rather closer cooperation on various levels. I will have opportunities to make such proposals," he said.