EU study: prospect of flood of cheap labour from East mostly myth

One of the most controversial topics the Czech Republic still has to negotiate with the European Union is the free movement of labour. Many EU members are nervous about the prospect of being overwhelmed by cheap labour from the East, and some political parties - such as Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party - have campaigned successfully on the issue. But some analysts say the EU actually has nothing to worry about, and there'll be no flood of cheap Czech labour when the Czech Republic joins the Union. Zuzana Smidova has the details.

A study carried out recently by the European Commission claims there are more EU citizens working in the Czech Republic than Czechs working in the EU. But the situation is quite the reverse in Hungary and Poland, both of whom are also negotiating with Brussels on the free movement of labour. And with this in mind the Czechs are hoping for more relaxed approach from the EU, as the study suggested there's a little real need for the member states to feel threatened by the prospect of Czechs flooding their labour markets as soon as the country is let in.

Free movement of labour is one of the thorniest chapters in negotiations with the EU, since neighbouring countries such as Austria or Germany are calling for restrictions, fearing that cheap labour from the former Eastern bloc will cause high unemployment. They are calling for at least a transition period, similar to when Portugal joined the Union. The strongest voice has come from Austria. At present, East Europeans make up about 2.5 per cent of the legal workforce in Austria and Germany's border regions, although nationwide, only 0.3 per cent of Germany's workforce is from Eastern Europe.

Czech negotiators led by Pavel Telicka commissioned a similar study during earlier accession talks, to prove their point that the EU has nothing to fear from enlargement to the East. However the study carried out by the European Commission only took into account eight countries - Germany, Britain, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Belgium and Luxembourg - leaving out Austria - and only included legal workers. The number of illegal workers from Eastern Europe, and the number of people from the region who commute into the EU each day, is difficult to estimate now, not to mention making predictions for the future. The figures are highly unreliable: estimates for the number of Czechs working illegally in the EU can range from several thousand to a hundred thousand.

Author: Zuzana Šmídová
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