RIGA - In a bold move, Hungary's leadership announced that it would introduce labor market restrictions against any current EU member state that limits the rights of Hungarians to work in its country after May 1.
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said on March 4 that Budapest would respond in kind to current EU members who impose curbs on potential migrant workers from the 10 acceding states. He stressed, however, that the restrictions would not apply to the nine other countries joining the economic bloc on May 1, 2004.
"Hungary is a country proud of its values and its knowledge," Medgyessy was quoted as saying after talks with Maltese Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami. "So this [decision] is primarily an expression of equal standing."
Thirteen of the 15 member states have stated that they would restrict access to their labor markets and welfare benefits once the 10 countries, which have a total population of 75 million, join the EU, even though many studies have shown that new EU citizens are not planning to pack up and move west for better jobs and benefits.
A European Commission study published last week showed that fewer than one in 100 people from the 10 accession states planned to emigrate come May 1. Specifically, recent surveys in Hungary, which has 10 million people, suggested that only 1 percent of Hungarians would consider looking for a job in Western Europe.
Hungary, explained Medgyessy, would first hold bilateral talks with EU members ahead of accession to determine whether they might change their stance. If talks fail, the prime minister said Budapest would proceed with its restrictions.
"This means that we will impose exactly the same restrictions on current EU states in the next seven years following accession as these countries impose on Hungarian citizens," he said.
EU Commissioner for Employment Margot Wallström said that she would ask the current 15 member states to clarify their plans in order to "make sure this does not turn ugly."
Currently Hungary's unemployment rate stands at 5.8 percent, compared with the EU average of 8 percent. Wages in Hungary are one-fifth of the EU average.