EU governments should lift their restrictions on workers from the bloc's newer member states, since they bring more gain than pain, Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla said Tuesday.
"Workers from new (EU) member states have satisfied demand in receiving countries ... without creating any major disruption to unemployment or to the salaries of native workers," Spidla said.
And since the free movement of people is "a fundamental right", governments should "lift their restrictions as soon as possible," the commissioner said.
Spidla made his comments while presenting a report showing that the EU's recent enlargement has not, as some had feared, led to a massive influx of Polish plumbers - a symbol of cheap labour - to the EU's 15 oldest and richest members (EU-15), dpa reported.
The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as Cyprus and Malta, all joined the EU in 2004, while Bulgaria and Romania followed in 2007.
The commission's latest estimates show that the share of nationals from the 10 countries that joined in 2004 and who have decided to relocate elsewhere in the EU has risen from 0.2 per cent in 2003 to 0.5 per cent in 2007, with most of them heading to Britain or Ireland.
The share of Bulgarians and Romanians now living in the EU-15, meanwhile, has increased from 0.2 per cent to 0.4 per cent over the same period, with most heading for Spain or Italy.
Such migrations have, on balance, brought more benefits than problems by satisfying demand and by meeting skill shortages in the receiving countries, Spidla said.
Officials in Brussels also note that the arrival of workers from new member states tends to increase productivity and ease inflationary pressure, since these workers send part of their salaries back home rather than spend it in their new country of residence.
And unlike many illegal immigrants arriving from Asia, Africa or Latin America, EU workers tend to enjoy regular contracts and thus pay taxes.
When the EU agreed to enlarge its borders, the EU executive in Brussels agreed to allay the concerns of many by granting "old" EU governments the ability to temporary restrict the influx of workers from new member states.
Such restrictions must however be abolished entirely by 2011 for workers from the eight central and eastern European countries that joined in 2004 - and by 2013 for Bulgarians and Romanians.
At the moment, only Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Germany maintain some restrictions on workers from the eight that joined in 2004, while workers from Bulgaria and Romania still face barriers to entry in most EU-15 countries.
Asked whether Europe's biggest employer - Germany - should now lift its restrictions, Spidla said the commission's report "shows quite clearly that all countries that have opened up (their labour markets) have found it to be a good thing."
The commissioner also noted that since migrant workers tend to go where jobs are available, the current recession would not lead to a major increase in the inflow of such workers.
Governments now have until the end of April to communicate to the commission whether they intend to extend their restrictions. However, they can only do so if they can show that lifting them would lead to "serious disturbances" to their labour markets.