New disputes over lifting labor force restrictions for Romanians, Bulgarians

“The chauvinistic or racist populist campaign against Romanians was also generated by MEPs,” says PM Victor Ponta.

The issue of lifting labor market restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians as of January 1, 2014, has been the subject of heated debate in the U.K. and Germany. British Prime Minister David Cameron and German MEP Elmar Brok expressed some of the most vocal criticisms. A rather harsh exchange of words took place over the last few days between Elmar Brok and Prime Minister Victor Ponta, as Ponta told ministers at the start of yesterday’s government session that the chauvinistic or racist populist campaign against Romanians was in fact generated by political forces that do not share the same European values, a group which unfortunately also includes MEPs and friends of the “Macoveis” (editor’s note – allusion to Monica Macovei, former Minister of Justice) and other Romanians. He asked members of his Cabinet who are scheduled to meet with European partners to show them the true level of labor force migration “without resentment or hysterics” and to emphasize how much countries have had to gain from Romanians who go there to work for a better pay, compared with how much the Romanian state stands to lose from this exodus of the qualified personnel. “It’s very important to behave in a dignified manner and defend ourselves. Because of our leaders, we have been on our knees before Europe for years and I think now is the time to stand up and be aware of our position and demand the same respect we’ve shown others,” Ponta stated, as cited by Mediafax.
One day before, in response to Ponta’s statement on Monday by which he characterized Elmar Brok as “an irresponsible and populist demagogue” who thinks like “a Nazi and Fascist,” the German MEP stated “this reproach would eventually turn against him.” “He should not treat one of Romania’s old friends like this, not unless he has populist and domestically motivated goals,” Brok stated in a press release. He went on to say most Romanians and Bulgarians are welcome to any EU Member State, but those few who break the rules must be persuaded to abide them. “The right of EU citizens to free movement is a fundamental right that should not be restricted. I have always fought for this fundamental right, of Romanians and Bulgarias inclusive,” Brok said. He also underlined he has asked German authorities to counteract forms of abuse so as to prevent endangering free movement. “This will only affect a small minority of people who don’t comply with the rules,” Brok concluded.
The press wrote that Elmar Brok, the chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, recently stated that the immigrants who go to Germany solely for benefits should be rapidly sent back to their countries of origin and should be fingerprinted. The PSD delegation within the EP has already announced it will ask Elmar Brok to resign from the positions he holds within the EP.
Andreas Scheuer, Secretary General for the Christian Social Union, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian political ally, has expressed a similar opinion. In an interview for Die Welt, he said qualified workers are welcome to his country, but considering that 46 percent of the Romanians and Bulgarians who have come to Germany since 2007 have no professional training, Berlin is not obliged to import other people’s problems. Scheuer believes immigrants’ access should be restricted by way of social insurance. “The institute for labor force and professional research within the Federal Labor Agency has estimated that the number of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants will rise to 180,000 in 2014, after the market opens. Cries for help in this respect have been visible for over a year in cities and small towns,” the Secretary General for the Christian Social Union stated.
Andreas Scheuer is the second right-wing politician to add fuel to German debates over Romanian and Bulgarian workers coming to Germany after the January 1 lifting of labor market restrictions. In an interview for Schwäbische Zeitung, Cem Özdemir, Co-Chairman of the Green party, has criticized the “cheap populism” Bavarian Conservatives have used in reference to Romanians and Bulgarians, and claimed the real issue are the Romani minority in Romania and Bulgaria, who is forced to leave due to poverty and discrimination. Özdemir launched an attack on Chancellor Merkel and her CSU allies, blaming them for “having done nothing to fight poverty and discrimination across Europe” during their eight-year rule. He continued by saying he views statements made by CSU members with regard to Romanian and Bulgarian workers as part of a political campaign for the local elections scheduled to take place March 18 in Bavaria. “CSU is not talking about what it can do to remedy the German economy’s lack of qualified labor force or the problems faced by individuals in socially precarious and brutally discriminatory conditions, and here I am referring to Bulgarian and Romanian Romani minorities. (…) The reason why they are leaving is because they have no perspectives or alternatives. This is what we must change,” he stated. Furthermore, the Co-Chairman of the Green party rejected claims made by other German politicians that Romanians and Bulgarians who come to Germany lack professional training, while admitting there is a problem, which involves the Romani and their living conditions in Romania and Bulgaria.
Brussels: Workers’ right to free movement is fundamental
EU countries cannot restrict the free movement of workers, but they can send European citizens who have not managed to find a workplace within three years and do not have the necessary means for subsistence home, Jonathan Todd, spokesman for EC, stated Monday, as cited by Mediafax. When asked about British Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement on limiting the number of European workers, Todd replied “similar messages have been conveyed by Great Britain before Christmas.” “The European Commission must wait for the decision of the British authorities. The workers’ right to free movement is one of the EU’s fundamental principles and it has been so since the very beginning, in the late ‘50s. It is also a fundamental principle of the Single Market,” he underlined.

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