Cheesed off, the Hungarian taking on EU brain drain
Oxford academic who set up plant lends voice to campaign to halt exodus from eastern Europe
IN THE Hungarian village of Kisasszond, Peter Róna’s gourmet cheese factory is fermenting a quiet rebellion against the European Union.
Mr Róna, a senior fellow in economics at Oxford University, hoped to put his theories into practice by setting up the cheesery, which employs 12 families in what he calls the “backwaters” of Hungary.
The eccentric project, which has won international awards for its soft and smoked cheeses, has proven a roaring success. There is just one major problem: Mr Róna’s prize cheese makers keep leaving Hungary. “I had a very nice fellow who I trained up to be a very competent cheese maker, and now he’s leaving to make cheese in Switzerland,” he told The Sunday Telegraph.
“I don’t mind, I can find somebody else. I can train them – but I know they will leave as well. That’s just how it is.”
Mr Róna, along with many Hungarians, bitterly resents the EU’s free movement policy, which they say has created a “brain drain” that leads to eastern European workers heading west in search of higher wages.
The minimum wage in Hungary is €400 (£360) per month, whereas in the UK or Germany the same jobs can fetch up to €1,400 (£1,256) per month.
The result is a dire shortage of workers which has become so severe that, according to some Hungarian politicians, the country risks economic collapse within the next 10 years.
Anecdotally, Hungarians have com- plained that it can take up to a year for an electrician to come and rewire their plugs.
“I set up [the factory] partly because I like cheese and cows, but the real reason was to see what it takes to build up a business in a seriously underdeveloped, disadvantaged, backwater part of the country from scratch,” said Mr Róna.
“The wage disparity is the single most important threat to EU unity, as it jeopardises any sense of solidarity or cohesion. The average real wage of a Bulgarian, for example, is 18 per cent of the EU average. And the real income of the richest district in the European Union, inner-west London, is 600 times the income of the two poorest ones, in Romania and Bulgaria. Those are shocking numbers.”
The recent loss of his finest cheese maker to a Swiss rival was a turning point for the academic, who has now lent his voice to a pan-European campaign to end wage inequality.
The EU Wage Union claims free movement has created a “common tragedy” of mass emigration and a “social drama” where families are torn apart.
The campaign is run by politicians and activists in eight central and eastern European member states: Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.
Earlier this year, they presented a declaration to the European Commission, which must consider adopting the wage-matching proposals if the campaign collects at least one million signatures from EU citizens by May 2018.
At Deak Ferenc Square in Budapest, Gabrielle, a 33-year-old office manager, said: “I want to stay in Hungary, it is my country. But it is tempting to leave when you could earn and achieve so much more elsewhere.”
Additional reporting by Balazs Cseko CHOCK-FULL of memorable tunes and a dream pairing in Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, Singin’ In the Rain has long been one of the best loved Hollywood musicals.
Now the flapper-style dress that Reynolds wore during the You Were Meant for Me duet with Kelly is up for sale. The lavender silk chiffon dress, which has an estimated price tag of $30,000 (£23,000), is part of a vast collection of film memorabilia being auctioned following the death of Reynolds at 84 and her daughter Carrie Fisher, 60, within a day of each other last December.
Reynolds and Fisher accumulated hundreds of pieces from their careers, including film posters, set costumes and scripts.
Fisher, who starred as Princess Leia in Star Wars, even collected novelty ce- real boxes promotingg the sci-fi adventure.
Also being sold is the original script Fisher used for her role in The Empire Strikes Back, including handwritten adjustments to her dialogue in key scenes with Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo, Singin’ In The Rain,
Debbie Reynolds’ chiffon dress, below, from the scene in left, is among the haul of memorabilia collected by the actress and her daughter Carrie Fisher being sold