On May 1, 2004, the European Union (EU) expanded by 10 new states so that the EU now comprises 25 member states. One of the fundamental principles of the EU is that all citizens of the EU should enjoy the freedom of movement, i.e., every citizen of an EU state should have the right to work in any EU state without going through the formal procedure of applying for a work permit.

However, as the result of pressure applied primarily by Germany and Austria—the two original EU countries that share borders with a number of the new EU states— the principle of freedom of movement will apply initially only to a limited extent to citizens of the eastern EU states; specifically, to citizens of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Germany and Austria feared that their respective labor markets would otherwise quickly be flooded with cheaper labor from the new eastern European EU states. The Treaty of Accession sets forth that the freedom of movement principle will be introduced over time to citizens of these restricted states. The transition phase does not apply to the other two new EU states — Cyprus and Malta— meaning citizens of these states have an immediate right to work throughout the EU.

Each of the 15 original member states may continue to enforce for two years ( i.e., until May 1, 2006) any laws or treaties it may have enacted with respect t o t h e emp l oyme nt o f fo re i g n e rs a n d i s a l s o p e rmitted to continue to treat the citizens of the eight above-mentioned new EU states as foreigners for this two-year period. As a result, citizens of these states will be required to apply for work permits to be able to work in any of the original 15 EU member states. Each of the 15 original member states must then decide whether to keep these laws in place for an additional three years, i.e., through May 1, 2009. Finally, if a country is able to convince the EU Commission that the influx of labor from these new EU states will disrupt its local labor market, then it may continue to enforce its same laws and treaties for another two years, i.e., until May 1, 2011.

As for the initial two-year period, Germany enacted legislation that states that the principle of freedom of movement initially will not apply to the citizens of the eight "restricted" countries. As a result, citizens of these countries will still be required to obtain a work permit before working in Germany. An exception exists if a citizen of one of the eight states was already working legally in Germany for at least 12 months prior to May 1, 2004. In Germany, these individuals may benefit from the principle of freedom of movement effective immediately, with the proviso that they may work only in Germany and in those other EU countries that are not applying the restrictive freedom of movement rules.

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