French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday won the support of two eastern European states in his campaign against EU rules on the employment overseas of workers from low-pay countries, calling the current system a "betrayal" of European values.
The regulation has come under fire from rich nations like France whose president has described it as a "betrayal of the European spirit". On Thursday and Friday he will go to Romania and Bulgaria. "This is what stokes populism in our countries", he told reporters at a joint press conference with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern.
France and Austria want to fight against the erosion of labour standards within the European Union, the leaders of both countries made clear after meeting Wednesday in Salzburg.
Under the current rules, employers only have to pay minimum wage if they send workers overseas, and they pay social security in the workers' home country rather than the host country.
Critics argue that the bloc's expansion in 2004 opened the system to abuse.
The European Union is trying to resolve one of its main headaches - the differences between western Europe and eastern Europe about the practice that allows firms in low-wage countries to post workers elsewhere. In addition, they don't have to pay into the host nation's social system.
Dominik Owczarek, an expert on European labor polices with the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw, said French and German companies, for example, have profited by producing and selling goods across Central Europe, benefiting from low-wage, high-skilled workers and low corporate taxes. The Laval case concerned Latvian workers posted to building sites in Sweden, and the Finnish ferry company Viking Line got backing for its hiring of Estonians.
France meanwhile employed some 286,000 temporary workers in 2015 under the directive.
Boyko Borissov with Emmanuel Macron in Paris in June
However, the Czech Republic and Slovakia want the field of road transport exempted from the EU's future directive.
So far he has faced staunch resistance from eastern and central European countries, but there were signs of a breakthrough after discussions with the leaders of Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in Salzburg.
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said the concerns of countries in the east needed addressing, as well as those of the west, but gave no details on what he would deem acceptable after meeting Macron.
One of the biggest opponents to Macron's proposal is expected to be Poland, which sends overseas 300,000 to 400,000 a year.
Top officials in Brussels on Wednesday welcomed Macron's reform push.
"Some political or business circles seek to use the EU's funds while at the same time developing a system of social and fiscal dumping", he said in Bucharest during a whistle-stop visit to eastern and central Europe. She first wore the exact same piece to meet Melania Trump last month, ahead of Bastille Day.
Paris and Berlin are "completely" in agreement, according to French diplomats.
The 39-year-old centrist is pushing for a new mechanism to screen non-EU investments, particularly from China, into strategic areas of the European economy, as well as tougher measures to block the dumping of cheap imports on the continent.