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Friday, 6 April, 2001, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
EU enlargement: Will East go West?
The received wisdom in the West is that central and eastern Europeans who are not in the EU and whose countries wish to join, aspire to migrate westwards.
It's this thinking which prompts for example, Germany's desire to see a seven-year transitional period after accession in which say, Poles won't be able to come and take permanent residence.
So, will EU enlargement create a flow of people into Western Europe?
For this week's Europewide debate, Europe Today's Mark Reid brought together Ursula Engelen Kefer, a German trade union leader in Berlin who represents nearly 10 million workers, and the Polish migration specialist Krystyna Iglieska in Warsaw.
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
There is no reason for a large population to move from Central Europe to the West. We have freedom, democracy, shopping malls on the outskirts of big cities and a booming consumer society. Why would millions of Czechs, Slovaks, or Hungarians move to Western countries to be treated as second class citizens, when we have everything here in Prague and Budapest as they have in Vienna or Munich? The same way we can feel about retirees from the West who use better currency exchange to escape the high cost of living in their countries for bargain prices in Central Europe. Migration works both ways, because thousands of Westerners are living here too.
The young population in the Eurozone is slowly but surely diminishing. The surplus populace in Eastern Europe will help contain the labour pool. Western Europe needs Eastern Europe and Turkey more than vice versa.
A mass exodus is out of the question. Immigration will not occur since corporations are currently investing billions of dollars in markets from Estonia all the way down to Croatia. In my view, by the time Eastern European countries are ready to enter the European family (2003-2006), their economies will be stronger then the entrance economies of Ireland, Greece and Portugal.
I am convinced that the opposite will happen, that is Western Europeans will move to Eastern Europe. Many in the West will sell their expertise to their eastern neighbours and at the same time enjoy a less hectic lifestyle.
The thought that the EU might admit ex-Warsaw Pact countries is ridiculous! Ten years ago, they were pledged to our destruction. Where did their desire to join the EU spring from?
The so-called "Land for Labour" deal will sort things out, i.e. where the newcomer countries in Eastern European will not be allowed free movement within the EU for 7 years, while EU citizens won't be allowed to buy up eastern European land for 7 years too. Michael Gahan, regarding your views, don't be greedy! Ireland might reject a negative stance if we vote NO to the Nice Treaty at the next negotiations for EU structural funds.
I suspect that a great number of young people from East European countries will head for Western Europe. If not because of economic necessity, then because of curiosity and a sense of adventure! How many of us in Western Europe share the same curiosity for our Eastern neighbours? What do we know about Poland, Hungary, etc? Shouldn't we start getting to know each other before the political walls come down?
Being married to a Hungarian, whose country will be amongst the first to join, I think that the majority of those who want to move, will find a legal or illegal way now. The main reason is standard of living, which will be increased in their home countries by EU membership through infrastructure investment. The biggest worry for the EU is not workers coming to the West, but the work leaving the West for cheaper labour markets. For example, Ireland emerged as the dominant IT hardware producer of Europe through lower costs. Hungary in particular will probably dominate in intellectual exports such as IT software (already a major export) and expertise in medical and other fields.
Knowing quite a few "Central Europeans", I'd say not. Of course there'll be some, especially initially - in the same way there'll always be Brits keen to leave here. But would we all move to, say, the US or Australia if their immigration laws were relaxed? Of course not, and the same applies to people of any nation. I got to know quite a few Czechs and Poles who were over here to study (paying 700% more than we do to do so, by the way!), and only one of them thankfully wanted to stay - my wife!
Jose Duarte, Portugal
Most people stay in their own country. Those moving in or out are taking a big step and are willing to work hard and succeed which makes them welcome in their new homes.
Unlikely. The people who will leave and move are already doing so.
If people want to come to Western Europe it is because the standard of living is lower in the East. If we support Eastern economies then there will be a lower incentive for this to happen.
To be honest, I'm very apprehensive about the "assimilation" of the former Soviet block countries. The main reason for this is because it will cost the EU an immense amount of cash. Yes I am being greedy, but I am concerned especially with possible economic recession on the cards. I also don't think either them or us are really ready yet as the cultural gap is still a little bit too big. A better idea would be a second track to the main European Union, a sort of pre-membership union where on many matters they can be associated and involved before taking the big step to join. Early membership will result in a very significant exodus of Eastern Europeans for which we are not culturally ready yet. Give both of us more time to get used to the idea.
If it were true that all those seeking better economic standards for themselves will move to richer countries, then Portugal, Greece and Ireland would have been devoid of population by the late 1980s. And the UK would be slowly decreasing in population by now as well, due to the appalling standard of living, environmental conditions and working practices/ wages.
The fact is that most people prefer to stay in their own environment and live the good life there. The decision to emigrate - permanently - is almost always a negative choice, one which people are driven to take. It needs to be distinguished from the decision to take up temporary residence elsewhere and return home with the wealth obtained abroad. That is far more frequent, and in fact what most "economic migrants" intend.
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