Writing under the pseudonym of Justyna Polanska, a Polish cleaning lady has recently published a book entitled Under German Beds, which recounts the grim details of her relationships with her German customers and all the terrible things she has found in their homes. And it is worth noting that for the Justyna Polanskas of this world, the 1st May is not going to change anything. They will continue to do battle with the housework in German homes, and they will still be employed illegally. But in spite of that, the opening of the labour market is the subject of a much sturm und drang for the citizens of Poland's western neighbour.

According to a recent poll by the IMAS Institute, two thirds of Germans are convinced that the inhabitants of the new members of the EU are about to arrive en masse. And close to 70 percent believe that an end to the quotas will have a negative impact on Germany, as opposed to 16 percent who think it will be beneficial.

According to an even more alarming survey published by Welt am Sonntag, three quarters of the population believes that Germans will have to contend with fewer employment opportunities as a result of the suppression of quotas for Poles, Czechs and the citizens of other countries that joined the European Union in 2004.

Economic emigration

Those of you who are familiar with today’s Germany will not be surprised by the results of these polls. Pressure from public opinion is the main reason why successive German governments have not put an end to restrictions on access to the German labour market. In fact, flying in the face of advice from economists, the applicable period for these restrictions has been extended on two occasions. But that is not to say that the Poles are complaining. On the contrary, they have learned to get around German bureaucracy and exploit loopholes in the country’s legislation — a fact born out by figures from the Polish statistics office, which reports that in recent years 400,000 Poles have been legally employed in Germany. At the same time, a significantly larger number have found jobs in Great Britain, which took the step of opening its labour market in 2004.

The majority of German experts are not expecting much in the way of change following May 1. Joachim Muller, the director of an employment agency research institute, estimates that the inflow of workers to the German labour market from new EU member states will amount to 100,000 people per year, and a significant percentage of these will be Polish. According to the Polish-German chamber of commerce, the removal of access restrictions will encourage between 200,000 and 400,000 Poles to emigrate within the next few years. Most will come from regions close to the border, although a certain proportion will also come from Mazovia and Opole. But the overall picture is one of regional emigration, which bears no comparison to the large-scale migration that immediately followed Polish accession to the EU.

In Germany the employment agencies are already rubbing their hands with anticipation, while the country’s employers, although they do not like to admit it, already rely heavily on Polish labour. The Germans are especially interested in well-qualified migrants — doctors, nurses and IT specialists — but they are also eager to recruit temporary personnel such as warehouse staff, says Karina Kaczmarczyk of Work Service International.

Shortages in the German labour market

For years Germans have been complaining about a death of IT staff, which in part has been prompted by the fact that new technology specialists usually prefer to emmigrate to the US rather than Europe. The ongoing recruitment campaigns that Germany has launched in several countries have not met with much success, and this is particularly the case in Poland where IT experts tend prefer to work in the own country. Workers in another sought-after employment category, auxiliary nurses and midwives, have shown a willingness to work in Germany but only on a temporary basis. As for Polish doctors, most of them prefer to emigrate to Great Britain. So as it stands, the Polish workers that are most likely to emigrate to Germany are those with limited language skills who are the least qualified.

And the country does have opportunities for workers in this category. Just like its counterpart in Poland, the Bundeswehr is now a professional force offering a range of jobs that do not interest young Germans. In this context, the German ministry of defence is planning to recruit young people who are resident in the country even if they do not have German citizenship. So it may happen that a sizable proportion of the hundreds of thousands of Poles who set out to seek their fortune on German labour will end up in the German armed forces, which says a lot about the changing world we live in. You can hardly imagine a stronger symbol of today’s united Europe.