The European Union developed from a series of inter-state relationships that were developed after World War II that were designed to assure that such a war could never occur again within Europe and to provide bonds between countries by providing for the free movement of goods, services and eventually people. The founding members of the European Union, the central fifteen states, have diverse economies and cultures, but they held in common the fact that they were advanced, rich countries with educated populations and high GDPs.
The recent admittance of the EU-10 countries on May 1, 2005, has led to a growing concern regarding migration, but this may be seen as merely exasperating trends that were already occurring (Migration, 2005). The fact is that there has been a discrepancy between the avowed aims of the EU: to enable the four freedoms of movement of foods, capital, workers, and services across national borders and the often individual policies of some of the founding, and richer countries. Thus France and Germany have instituted policies, both on a public and private level, that reflect their worry about so-called wage or social dumping (Migration, 2005).
The perceived problem arises from the fact that many German, Dutch, French and British firms have established employee leasing firms in lower-wage members of the EU such as Poland and Portugal. The employees hired by these countries are then often sent to the richer countries where they are paid at rates equivalent to their home countries rather than the ones that they are now working in. Thus there are many Portuguese laborers on English construction sites, and in turn, Ukrainian workers are found on Portuguese construction sites.
Changes in employment practices within certain industries have been quite startling because of this movement of workers. Thus leasing firms have replaced about 50% of the c. 60,000 workers in the German slaughterhouse industry with Polish workers. While Germany has no minimum wage laws, it has attempted to regulate this movement through, among other policies trying to extend its mid-1990’s law mandating union-agreed wages for all workers in the construction industry to other sectors of the economy.
These individual country laws are often at odds with the wider push of the EU towards greater freedom. In this case freedom is argued to be the need for competition and lowers wages/prices in countries such as France and Germany. But these countries do not want the lower wages and what is perceived as the lower standards of living and quality of life that will occur. In an economic sense, there is a deep suspicion of the new EU countries and pus to tighten national laws, but it is one that will inevitably come up against a shifting balance of power with Europe.