No Romanians and Bulgarians invasion abroad despite immigration restrictions lifting.
Fears that hundreds of thousands of eastern Europeans would enter the UK or any other Western EU country when immigration restrictions were lifted on January 1 have dominated the press recently, although to date no such surge has occurred.
Labour market restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians were lifted in all EU states on January 1, against the backdrop of fears that a wave of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants will “abuse” the social benefits systems of countries such as Great Britain and Germany. Thus, 7 years after Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Malta and Great Britain have lifted the labour market restrictions imposed for workers from the two countries. Nevertheless, the fears of a great influx of Romanians and Bulgarians that will invade those countries immediately after the lifting of restrictions have not come true, the overwhelming majority of Romanians landing on Western airports being already employed in those countries.
The Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) welcomed the full lifting of EU labour market restrictions for Romanian citizens. “(…) The free movement of persons is a fundamental principle of the EU and a building block of the Single Market,’’ the Foreign Ministry said in a release. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs shares the position of principle of the European Commission that was most recently expressed by Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor, according to which the free movement of mobile workers, citizens of EU member states, produces in fact positive effects on the Single Market and on the deepening of European integration. The Foreign Ministry also expresses confidence that Romanian citizens will continue to make an important and responsible contribution to strengthening and accomplishing the European project in all its components.
The lifting of restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians was preceded however by heated disputes and fears from some countries, headed by Great Britain, over the impact that the lifting of these restrictions will have on their labour markets. While the wave of criticism abated in Great Britain at the start of the year, it rose in Berlin.
erman Conservatives have asked for the fingerprinting of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants in order to prevent them from receiving social benefits. “The immigrants that come to Germany for Hartv IV (unemployment benefits), children’s benefits and health insurances have to be rapidly sent back to their countries of origin. In order to prevent multiple entries we have to think about fingerprinting them,” Elmar Brok, the chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, stated for ‘Bild’ daily, being quoted by TheLocal.de. Brok, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU), was criticized by his party for these statements.
The disputes taking place within Merkel’s “grand coalition” government over the issue of the arrival of Romanians and Bulgarians in Germany following the lifting of labor market restrictions have so far taken place between the Social-Democrats and CSU, CDU’s Bavarian ally, which has adopted a stronger line in what concerns immigration. The Bavarian Conservatives (CSU) – the sister-party of Conservatives that are part of Angela Merkel’s CDU – have denounced the possible influx of poor immigrants in Germany, asking for a harsher attitude towards those that defraud the social benefits system. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social-Democrat coalition partner rapidly calmed down this new polemic. “Next Wednesday the government, reunited for the first time this year within the Council of Ministers, will objectively analyze the issue,” Social-Democrat Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel stated in an interview published by ‘Bild’ on Saturday. “I believe we don’t have to artificially inflate this problem. (…) We don’t need a strong discrimination of Bulgarians and Romanians, but we don’t have to ignore the problems in some large German cities faced with the immigration of the poor,” Gabriel added. European Commissioner for Labor Laszlo Andor also warned against any form of hysteria in this debate. “It’s absolutely necessary to defend fundamental rights such as free movement and we shouldn’t react hysterically towards immigration,” the European Commissioner stated in an interview for ‘Die Welt’ on Saturday. Laszlo Andor in fact pointed out in a communiqué released on January 1 that an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians is unlikely following the lifting of labor market restrictions in all EU states, adding that there were already 3 million Bulgarians and Romanians living in other EU member states.
The dispute over the fingerprinting of Romanians and Bulgarians has sparked harsh reactions in Bucharest too. In a communiqué released on Saturday, Catalin Ivan, PSD spokesperson and leader of the PSD delegation within the European Parliament, condemned the statements made by Elmar Brok, pointing out that those who are asking for such measures “should go back to the Middle Ages to which they belong in mentality.” PSD Vice President and MEP Corina Cretu claims that the “press campaigns” against Romanians are exaggerated and pointless, pointing out that the “apocalyptic invasion of Romanians did not take place.” “The proposal of Mr. Brok and of others like him reminds us of a past we all believed to be gone and its lessons learned,” Cretu added.
The PSD delegation in the European Parliament will demand CDU MEP Elmar Brok to resign from his offices held in the EP after he said that the immigrants who come to Germany only in search of welfare aid should be expelled and that fingerprinting them would be a solution for avoiding multiple entries.
In what concerns Great Britain, the tone of criticism has died down a bit after the lifting of restrictions, the British press noticing the absence of the much-expected influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants. The Guardian writes in the online edition on January 2 that no extra flights, empty seats – the lack of stampeding Bulgarians and Romanians shows the rightwing hysteria for what it was, in an article entitled “The immigration invasion that never was”.
On the other hand, Labour UK leader Ed Miliband pledged on Sunday that a Labour government will clamp down on British businesses using cheap foreign labour, as he gave a warning that the arrival of migrant workers from Romania and Bulgaria could make the cost of living crisis worse for Britons. According to Miliband, if Labour wins in 2015, the Government would work with businesses to close a European Union loophole which allows companies to undercut staff legally by paying agency workers lower wages. The loophole has allowed major firms in the food, packaging and call-centre sectors to employ workers, often from abroad, on lower rates. Writing in The Independent on Sunday, the Labour leader says it is right to address “understandable” fears about immigration, while maintaining Britain’s position as a country that “reaches outwards to the world”.
Romanian ambassador to Britain, Ion Jinga has mocked MPs and rightwing newspapers that gathered at airports on New Year’s Day to interrogate an expected influx of his countrymen, comparing them to tragicomic characters from Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece ‘Waiting for Godot’, writes theguardian.com. “Journalists and distinguished British MPs who went to Luton airport on the 1 January … discovered that only two Romanians came to the UK to take advantage of the lifting of border restrictions, and both having [sic] firm job offers – one washing cars, the other as a doctor in Essex. The overwhelming majority of the passengers were Romanians returning to jobs after having enjoyed Christmas with their families at home, or Britons coming home after skiing in the Carpathians,” the ambassador said.
Damian Draghici, an adviser to the Romania’s prime minister, also said, as quoted by www.dailymail.co.uk, that Britain should be far more worried about bankers ‘stealing’ billions than Roma who will come to beg on the streets from the New Year, believing that Romanian migrants should be given the chance to settle in the UK. “The Roma begging in the streets are obvious because we see them, they ask for one pound or one euro and they bother us. Yet some of the people in the banks are stealing billions of euros but nobody sees them because they are on the 60th floor,” Draghici, who is also Roma, said.