EU gets the cold shoulder from East Europeans

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The Independent Online

Most Poles, Czechs and Hungarians would rather stay at home than seek work in the European Union, says a survey contradicting fears of a westward influx of immigrants.

Most Poles, Czechs and Hungarians would rather stay at home than seek work in the European Union, says a survey contradicting fears of a westward influx of immigrants.

With the European Union preparing to admit up to 13 new countries, a study conducted by the Central European Opinion Research Group Foundation showed a mood of realism and a reluctance among central Europeans to move to wealthier Western countries.

The poll, which should help to allay fears expressed in Germany and Austria of being swamped by cheap labour from the applicant countries, shows Poles to be the most interested in working abroad, with one in ten saying they will "certainly try" to find a job in the EU. But the figure is 6 per cent for Hungary and 4 per cent for the Czech Republic.

More than half of Hungarians and one-third of Czechs and Poles said they would turn down a job in another EU state if offered when their countries become members.

More generally, support in Poland for EU membership, which was as high as 80 per cent in the early 1990s, is now at 55 per cent, down 4 percentage points from May this year but 4 points higher than in the Czech Republic. Hungary, which is generally seen as the country best prepared economically for EU entry, is byfar the most pro-European, with the support of 69 per cent of the population.

Even taking into account the mood in the more sceptical Czech Republic (where the trend is moving in favour of EU membership), public opinion in the three central European countries is more supportive of Europe than it is inside the 15 states that are EU members.

Nevertheless, asked who benefits "to a greater extent" from current relations, 50 per cent of Poles, an increase of 11 points from last year, said EU member countries get the better bargain.

Krzysztof Zagorski, a founder of the research group, said the findings could be explained by the trade deficit in Poland. "People see plenty of Western food as well as other products in our markets and they constantly read about the difficulties of getting Polish goods into the European Union. They feel - in part fairly - that the terms of competition are not always fair".

Dr Zagorski believes that the early, high poll ratings for the EU were recorded when membership was merely an "abstract idea". The recent findings are "the result of gaining more knowledge about the good and the bad sides" of EU membership. In Poland there is particular concern about the country's agricultural sector, with 46 per cent of the survey's respondents believing that Europe's farmers will benefit more than Polish ones from the country's accession.

Istvan Toth, the director of the Social Research Centre in Hungary, said there was "a stable pro-European position, especially in Hungary, and an increasing share of people believes there needs to be restructuring before joining".

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