EU allows crisis-hit Spain to restrict Romanian workers

AFP , Thursday 11 Aug 2011

Spain, the hardest hit European nation facing unemployment, restricts Romanian residents from entering its territories after EU approval

The EU executive Thursday gave Spain a green light to tighten restrictions on Romanian workers as it struggles against dire unemployment, the worst across the 27-nation bloc.

The European Commission "accepts that Spain can temporarily restrict the free movement of Romanian workers", it said in a statement, referring to Madrid's decision last month to require work permits in the future from Romanians wishing to settle in Spain.

The approval, running to the end of 2012, is "due to serious disturbances on its labour market. Spain has been hit very hard by the crisis."

Spain currently faces the European Union's highest jobless rate, running at over 20 percent since May last year.

"The continuous increase of Romanian residents in Spain and their high level of unemployment have had an impact on the capacity of Spain to absorb new inflows of workers," the commission statement added.

As the free movement of citizens from a new European Union member state can only be restricted under certain conditions, the commission had asked Spain to provide data to justify such a decision.

Though the number of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in Spain has dropped in the last years, Spain announced in July that Romanians will in future require a work permit before settling in Spain, ending a two-and-a-half-year moratorium.

"The temporary measure will not affect Romanians who are already part of the labour force in Spain," government spokesman Jose Blanco said, adding it also "will not affect the free circulation of citizens within the European Union, a principle that Spain has always defended."

When Romania and Bulgaria entered the EU in 2007, their treaties of accession stipulated a seven-year transition period during which other members could limit access to their labour markets.

Spain lifted this restriction in January 2009, but warned it could reimpose it at a later date if labour market conditions so required.

Since then, Spain's unemployment rate has soared from 7.95 percent to 21.29 percent in the first quarter of 2011, a record among countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development.

More than 800,000 Romanians live in Spain, where the community suffers an unemployment rate of 30 percent.

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