Photo: Motiqua / Flirkr
THE Bulgarian foreign minister and the Romanian ambassador in London are not amused about Britons’ hostility to immigration from their countries. Britain would not be the primary country of choice for Bulgarians to go and work, sniffed Nikolay Mladenov, adding that his country’s economy is most closely connected to Germany’s. According to the Romanian envoy, his compatriots tend to migrate to Spain, France and Italy rather than Britain because of linguistic proximity. Moreover, he said, Britons should be grateful to Romanian construction workers without whom London’s Olympic Village would not have been built last year.No European Union (EU) country is as worried as Britain about the uncontrolled mass immigration that a few predict could be unleashed next year when all 25 EU countries are obliged to open their labour markets fully to Bulgarians and Romanians who joined the union in 2007. This has to do with the country’s Eurosceptic mood, its experience of a big increase in immigration from Poland and other Eastern European countries in 2004–and general ill will towards immigration.
Yet Britain is not the only EU country with these concerns. German cities are on high alert due to the increased numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians migrants. “The social balance and social peace is extremely endangered,” says a recent internal paper of the German Association of Cities, according to Der Spiegel, a German weekly. They are especially worried about so-called poverty migration and the influx of Roma as “they often end up living in desolate conditions in houses only fit for demolition”, the document says.
In the Netherlands, the PVV, an anti-immigrant party, set up a website early last year where Dutch citizens could lodge their complaints about immigrants from central and eastern Europe. The site featured questions like “Do you have a problem with people from central and eastern Europe?” and “Have you lost your job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Eastern European? We want to know”.
The site was a dud but gave the PVV the publicity it craves. It received around 40,000 complaints about Eastern Europeans’ public drunkenness, noise and poor parking (as well as a relatively small number of gripes about criminal behaviour) but 135,000 other complaints, many of them about the xenophobia of the PVV. Even so, a broader anxiety over social cohesion, competition for jobs and a race to the bottom in wages and labour standards is shared by many working-class Dutch and by parties of all colours.
Romanian and Bulgarian policymakers are trying their best to dispel at least some of these worries. They argue that in 2004 Britain was the only big EU country to open its labour market without restrictions to Poles and other Eastern Europeans–and its economy was booming. This time, Britain is one of 25 countries (albeit one of the richer ones) and its economy is in dire straits. Those who have no intention to work, and instead plan to migrate in order to take advantage of Britain’s or Germany’s welfare system, are already there, as they have never been bothered by labour-market restrictions.
Bulgarian emigration peaked long ago, says Ivanka Ivanova at the Open Society Institute and she does not see any “push factors” that would encourage migration in the next few years. According to the institute’s data, most Bulgarian migrants go to Spain, where they do not face any labour restrictions, and to Germany even though the labour market there is still partly closed to them.
Policymakers concede that crime is another concern, fed by stories in the popular western European press about Romanian and Bulgarian crime syndicates flooding cities with pickpockets, prostitutes and beggars. Yet there is no evidence that crime rates among Romanians and Bulgarians are higher than those of any other migrant group. Some are even suggesting that criminality is lower among those who work illegally in one of the rich EU countries, as they want to avoid attracting attention.
A few Bulgarians and Romanians joke about not being welcome. Gandul, a Romanian newspaper, launched a campaign under the tagline: “We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania”. Posts on the site say “Half our women look like Kate; the other half look like her sister” and “We speak better English than anywhere you’ve been in France”. Boyan Yurukov, a popular Bulgarian blogger, produced a poster in bright red with white letters and a crown reading: “Keep calm and move to Bulgaria”.
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