No. 56, Ágnes Hárs (1998): Labour migration and the Eastern enlargement of the European Union – lessons from the Hungarian experiences

East-to-West migration became a major issue following the political and economic changes in countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Countries of Western Europe, which consider themselves in possible danger of increasing migration flow, soon enacted restrictive regulations.The arguments were mostly connected with the increasing unemployment and the burden of migrants on the welfare system of the welfare states. Is there a proved economic danger or rather a fear, xenophobia and prejudice? Is there an increase of East-to-West migration to be expected after the enlargement of the European Union? Is there a real danger or a fear of considerable migration in the enlarged Europe? What is the position of Hungary in these migratory streams? Concern among economists and politicians about labour migration probably stems more from fragmented evidence than from systematic econometric studies. In the following paper we collect some of this evidence concerning migratory flows to and from Hungary during the 1990s. We will prove that there is no serious evidence for the economic danger of migration following the enlargement of the European Union In fact, there is no reason to expect considerable emigration from Hungary. Migration from other Central and Eastern European countries to Hungary is somewhat more contradictory to forecast. We attempt to give answer concerning these tendencies, as well. The paper defines some economic indicators to estimate the level of labour migration like wage and living standard, risk, regulations, personal network. Using these indicators we raise the question of there is a uniform character or considerable difference of migration within the Central and Eastern European region. We analyse the expected migration from and to Hungary and their influence on the labour market of the European Union. Beyond this the lessons from previous enlargements of the European Union will be discussed. Finally we will comment on the limits of demand on foreign labour. Our study could be considered as a preliminary outline, an overview using the data available, that should be followed by several fieldwork, case studies and surveys about migration patterns in the region of the transition economies. The paper will suggest necessary directions of future research, as well.

Project leader:
Ágnes Hárs