UK plans against Romanian and Bulgarian migrants raise eyebrows
Övgü Pınar - 09/12/2013
“We are very useful barbarians”, reacted a Bulgarian columnist referring to the Greek poet Cavafy’s poem “Waiting for the barbarians”: “The twilight of the evening has fallen, but the barbarians have not shown up. Emissaries who have just returned from the border say: ‘There are no more barbarians. What will we do without them? They were so useful for solving our problems’.”
As transitional controls limiting Bulgarian and Romanian workers' access to the UK labour market is about to expire at the beginning of 2014, UK discusses how to manage the presumed influx of migrants. Although Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, control limits were applied to their citizens since then. Under the “transitional” rules, migrants from these two countries could only work in the UK in seasonal jobs or if they were self-employed. But on 1 January 2014, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will have the same rights to work in UK as British citizens.
British politicians warn that the expected migrant influx will cause a great competition for jobs and services and could cause social tensions. And British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing demands from his own party to fight EU against the lifting of the restrictions.
Tens of lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party have signed an amendment calling for the existing restrictions on migrants from Romania and Bulgaria to be extended until 2019.
And Prime Minister Cameron questioned the principle of free movement inside the EU and suggested freedom of movement should only be fully allowed if the average income of a country's people was not too far below the EU average. Trying to prove that he shares public concerns, Cameron announced controversial measures to ensure the ending of restrictions does not give the new migrants “too many” rights. These measures include:
- New migrants will have to wait three months before claiming any benefits, then only be able to claim for six months. After that, they must prove they have a realistic chance of employment.
- Migrants not being able to claim housing benefit immediately.
- New arrivals found to be begging or sleeping rough will be thrown out of the country and barred from returning for a year, unless they have a job.
- Quadrupling fines for employers not paying the minimum wage.
- Britain will try to build support among other EU nations to limit the freedom of people from future EU member states to work and travel freely, until their economy approaches the EU average.
Reaction from EU
These proposals didn’t satisfy the Prime Minister’s party but they drew furious reaction from the EU leaders. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said free movement is a "fundamental" EU principle "that must be upheld".
European Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor defined Cameron's proposals as "an unfortunate over-reaction" and said they risk "presenting the UK as a kind of nasty country in the European Union". Andor underlined that EU rules apply to all 28 member states and had been agreed to by the UK before.
Andor also added that the British had been quite frightened by the idea of Polis immigrants rushing to the country but instead immigration from Poland had helped the UK economy.
And Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said, "If Britain wants to leave the single market, you should say so. But if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market, free movement applies. You cannot have your cake and eat it, Mr Cameron."
50.000 new immigrants each year
Migration Watch UK has said it expects 50,000 people to come from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK in each of the next five years.
British institute for the study of civil society Civitas recently published an article titled “Integration is the best policy for 2014′s Romanian and Bulgarian migrants”. The article suggests that “estimates do suggest numbers so substantial that our already-straining services will be under severe pressure” and goes on to urge the government to work on newcomer integration. It reads: “Trends show future migrants are likely to cluster in areas that already house significant ex-pat communities. Areas of London and the south with Bulgarian/Romanian populations should receive extra funding to prepare for the extra workload… if Cameron can make January 2014 a smooth success, seamlessly welcoming new migrants that contribute to our economic recovery, he’ll paint himself as in control and will be better able to renegotiate our EU membership with commanding authority and a nation’s support.”