Hungary has benefitted from 20 years in the EU, but it also led to a brain drain and severe ideological conflicts, says Irish economist

Irish economist Philip Pilkington says Hungary achieved some of its positive results despite its EU membership

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, right, greets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during a roundtable meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Omar Havana)
By Dénes Albert
5 Min Read

In the European Union, for the leadership in Brussels, ideology replaced expertise over the last two decades, so while Hungary has benefited and continues to benefit from membership, some of its successes are due to the strategy of the Hungarian government, Irish economist Philip Pilkington, guest researcher at Hungary’s Foreign Affairs Institute, told Magyar Hírlap in an interview.

Speaking about the brain drain from other EU member states, Pilkington said it demonstrates shortsightedness:

“Joining the European Union has always carried the risk of a ‘brain drain’ for new members. After all, an EU passport means that you can simply move to a country with higher wages or welfare benefits if you want to. But as countries’ living standards converge, hopefully this process will slow down or even reverse. Personally, I think it is short-sighted to leave a much more rapidly developing country for a more mature country simply because of higher wages, but some people do,” he said, pointing out that the Hungarian government does have some means to mitigate the phenomenon.

Despite Hungary’s economic growth and its increasing standard of living, many of the young Hungarians who left the country have not yet returned. Pilkington argues that the Hungarian government should be making the case to these Hungarians why life is better in Hungary than in many of the most expensive Western cities in the world.

“It is an open secret that Western countries are becoming more expensive, especially for younger people. They are becoming less and less culturally and economically suitable for raising a family. The Hungarian government is a world leader in its attempts at family policy, but talking to demographic experts, I get the feeling that the government should focus on improving its messaging. It would be good to see an advertising campaign targeting young Hungarians abroad, who are getting fed up with living in overcrowded, expensive Western European cities with few prospects of starting a family, and encouraging them that they can have a better life at home,” Pilkington said.

He added that the Hungarian government’s perseverance in pursuing its national interest has brought many benefits, despite criticisms from the EU and the liberal press.

“The Hungarian government has succeeded in raising the country’s profile on the global stage by building on its existing strengths and pursuing a constructive and non-ideological policy different from other Western countries. Frankly, the leadership of the European Union is not what it used to be, and there seems to be a serious crisis of competence in the European Commission and elsewhere. The whole continent seems ungovernable without a clear direction or strategy,” he said.

Pilkington is highly critical of Europe’s shift towards subservience to the United States and argues that this has not benefitted Europeans. In this regard, Orbán’s stance should be, if not heeded, at least respected by Western leaders.

“Prime Minister Viktor Orbán pointed this out in a speech a few weeks ago, and attributed it — rightly, I think — to the fact that European leaders are following the American leadership, which has itself failed in recent years almost unconditionally and blindly. Faced with this, the Hungarian government has decided to take matters into its own hands. Other countries in the world, with more pragmatic leadership than Europe, recognize this and are listening to Budapest,” Pilkington pointed out.

Notably, China is investing heavily in Hungary and helping develop infrastructure across the country. Although Hungary has seen billions in funding frozen in Brussels, alternatives such as China offer the country other options and show that Orbán is able to chart his own path despite the obstacles thrown at him from Brussels.

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