Four more EU countries open labour markets, but do Czechs care?

03-05-2006

Four European Union countries announced this week that they were throwing open their labour markets to newcomers from the east. Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain said they would no longer place restrictions on citizens from new EU members, the Czech Republic included. But there's little sign Czechs are even interested. Take the example of Germany: the country hasn't lifted its restrictions on foreign workers, but does have a quota for qualified Czech workers. Amazingly, just 18 percent of that quota has been used. Daniel Munich is a labour market expert at the Centre for Economic Research and Graduate Education of Charles University (CERGE).

"It's a good message that this is the end of the remaining restrictions, but overall it will not have any substantial impact on their labour markets and on our labour markets. Simply - Czechs do not leave the Czech Republic."

Precisely - why are Czechs so reluctant to leave?

"There are several reasons. First, it's the language barrier. Young Czechs - and this is the major group that considers temporary migration - mostly speaks English, and the great portion of them not good English. So, this is a language barrier, that makes the portion of jobs available smaller. Second, the welfare scheme and other forms of insurance which are available here in this country are not so easily available abroad. And another reason is that there are other costs related to migration, such as the cost of leaving and taking your family with you, you don't have your grandparents with you to take care of your kids and so on. So the pool of potential migrants is rather small."

So in other words you're saying if they haven't gone to Germany, they're probably not going to go to Finland, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

"There will not be a great wave. Of course some people will enjoy working abroad for a short period - a couple of months or a year - learning languages and experiencing a different environment, but there will not be a huge outflow of Czechs."

The labour market restrictions can only stay in place until 2011. The EU's Employment Commissioner - Vladimir Spidla, who is Czech himself - says he wants more progress towards lifting them by 2009. Do you think he has a chance in places like Austria and Germany?

"It's difficult to predict. In my opinion we should try a kind of compromise. I think Germans and Austrians are afraid that primarily their labour markets in bordering regions will be flooded by commuters from the Czech Republic. If an exception could be that Czechs cannot work in close neighbourhood but could work anywhere else in Germany or Austria, this might be the way to a compromise, to simply open the market before 2011 or even earlier."

www.cerge-ei.cz/

03-05-2006