To my new colleagues at Fistful, I’d like to offer an apology for being silent lately. I’ve taken over back-of-the-house management duties at the restaurant I co-own in Prague, Tulip Cafe and, well, managing a restaurant is about as much work as you’d imagine, and then some.
The kitchen at Tulip is truly a cultural melting pot: currently we have three people helping out there, one British, one Australian and one Russian, and the lingua franca is generally Czech. And in that regard, I recently discovered that the future of my little business is largely in the hands of Tony Blair.
Call it the old bait-and-switch: Despite widespread reluctance to jump onto a train whose destination is basically unknown, Eastern Europeans voted overwhelmingly to join the EU last year. One of the reasons was the idea of “free movement of labor,” which is supposedly one of the fundamental freedoms of the EU. As it turns out, this “freedom” is a bit of a sham for the easterners, as countries like Germany and Austria, fearing a flood of cheap labor from the east, have instituted “transition periods” (lasting beyond 2010 in some cases) severely regulation the rights of easterners to work in those countries.
Now, it turns out the Netherlands has decided to do the same thing; the Czech press is not impressed, unsurprisingly. “Mind the barbarians, they have uprooted Rome,” mocks a columnist in Mlada fronta Dnes.
Today, The Guardian reports that Tony Blair is holding an “EU migration brainstorm” after sending mixed signals on the issue. (Britain is one of the few countries that had pledged to open its labor markets to the new EU entrants; the thorny question, is seems, is the benefits system, and the prevention of “benefits tourism.”)
In terms of the big picture, there’s plenty to be said here, and I’d like to keep this post short in the interest of prompting discussion. I’m personally surprised that there’s not more outrage that this is even under discussion a mere 10 weeks ahead of the May 1 accession day. Am I wrong, or should citizens of EU members states be considered EU citizens, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto? For all this discussion of a “two-tiered Europe,” few seem to have noticed that it’s exactly what we’re getting on May 1.
From a personal viewpoint, I’m considering hiring a Briton to be a our full-time chef (Czech cooking school not being any place to learn about how to prepare good food), and a British decision to curb EU migration will likely trigger reciprocal measures by the Czech government, which means that a Londoner who wants to move to Prague to be with his Czech girlfriend and find work — as, say, a chef in a Czech restaurant — will be out of luck. Which means my restaurant could be stuck with a guy who puts ketchup in spaghetti sauce.