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European Union (Accessions) Act 2003

Summary and Background

3.The Act relates to the Treaty concerning the accession of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia to the European Union, signed in Athens on 16 April 2003 (“the Accession Treaty”).

4.The Accession Treaty provides for the accession of the ten new Member States (as above) to the European Union on 1 May 2004. The Treaty falls into three parts: (a) a Treaty between the fifteen existing and the ten new Member States, (b) an Act concerning the conditions of accession and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the European Union is founded (“the Act of Accession”), and (c) the Final Act of the parties to the Treaty.

5.The Government presented the Accession Treaty to Parliament as a Command Paper (Cm 5805) published by the Stationery Office. Alongside that, it submitted an Explanatory Memorandum, which summarises and analyses the contents of the Treaty. Copies of the Explanatory Memorandum can be found on the website of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office:

6.The Act does two things. First, it enables the Accession Treaty to be implemented in UK law, and approves the provisions of the Accession Treaty insofar as they relate to the powers of the European Parliament. Secondly, it provides a power to grant nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia (“the eight relevant states”) the same rights to work in the UK from 1 May 2004 as are enjoyed by nationals of the states in the European Economic Area (EEA)(1).

Implementation in UK law of the Accession Treaty

7.In order to give effect in UK law to the Accession Treaty, the Act amends the definitions of “the treaties” and “the Community treaties” in the European Communities Act 1972 (c.68). In broad terms, this grants automatic effect to directly applicable Treaty provisions, and otherwise allows designated Ministers, under section 2(2) of the 1972 Act, to make regulations amending existing UK legislation, to the extent necessary to implement the Treaty.

Freedom of movement for workers

8.The Accession Treaty grants nationals of Cyprus and Malta the same rights to work in another Member State as are currently enjoyed by nationals of the existing Member States. Nationals of the eight relevant states, however, are subject to transitional provisions, set out in Annexes V, VI, VIII, IX, X, XII, XIII and XIV of the Act of Accession. These provisions are as follows:

  • for the first two years after accession (i.e. until 30 April 2006), Member States are free to apply national measures or bilateral agreements restricting the rights of nationals from the eight relevant states to work in their territories;

  • from 1 May 2006, Member States must either grant nationals from the eight relevant states the right to move freely for the purpose of work in accordance with Community law, or continue to apply national measures or bilateral agreements – up to 30 April 2009 (or 2011, in exceptional circumstances).

9.Prior to 1 May 2006, any Member State that has not imposed restrictions on free movement of workers from the eight relevant states, or has relaxed them in the interim, is free to impose them or re-impose them. After that date, any Member State that has granted the right of free movement in accordance with Community law can request the Commission to suspend in whole or in part the application of that law if the Member State undergoes or foresees disturbances to its labour market which could seriously threaten the standard of living or level of employment in a given region or occupation. Such suspensions can last at most until 30 April 2011.

10.In December 2002, the Government announced that it would grant nationals of the eight relevant states the same rights to work in the UK as are enjoyed by nationals of the existing Member States – from the date of accession. Section 2 of the Act provides a power to make regulations implementing this decision. It is the Government’s intention to lay regulations under this power, to take effect on 1 May 2004.

11.In the event of an unexpected threat to a region or occupational sector within the UK labour market, the following safeguards are available:

  • Under the normal rules governing subordinate legislation and subject to parliamentary procedure, the Government can re-impose restrictions on some or all of the eight relevant states by repealing or suspending the application of any regulations made under the Act; and

  • The Government can exclude nationals of one or more of the eight relevant states from the right to work in the UK under powers contained in the Act.

12.The Government does not expect that safeguards will be necessary, but intends to monitor closely the application of regulations made under the Act. As far as possible, this will be done through existing means of monitoring the labour market, such as the Labour Force Survey. The Government also intends to take into account the views of stakeholders, such as representatives of employers and employees, the devolved administrations and regional interests.


The European Economic Area currently comprises the fifteen Member States of the EU, together with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

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Explanatory Notes

Text created by the government department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes were introduced in 1999 and accompany all Public Acts except Appropriation, Consolidated Fund, Finance and Consolidation Acts.


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