Row Breaks out between UK and Romania over Targeting of Migrants
The Observer / The Guardian
Daniel Boffey in Bucharest
Britain is embroiled in a diplomatic row with Romania after making public its plan to target its citizens with measures to limit the flow of immigrants.
The east European state's foreign minister told the Observer that talk of extending restrictions on its citizens to work in the UK had caused "serious concerns". Titus Corlatean said he had received reassurances from the British foreign secretary, William Hague, that the UK would comply with its obligations under European law.
The British ambassador to Romania was asked to attend a meeting on Friday in Bucharest with the minister for Romanians abroad, Cristian David, at which the importance of discussing immigration in a "balanced and rational way" was debated.
David said: "Always when you try to keep some people out in a public campaign you have to be aware that you will make others feel uncomfortable who are already there and integrated. I expressed myself very diplomatically."
Dr Ion Jinga, the Romanian ambassador to the UK said: "I am worried that Romanians and Bulgarians are in the middle of a game in which they do not belong."
Transitional arrangements restricting the rights of 29 million Bulgarian and Romanian citizens from living and working in the UK will expire in January 2014. However, the coalition is being pressed by a growing number of Tory MPs and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to retain curbs amid fears of a huge influx of immigrants.
Last week it emerged that the government was considering launching a PR campaign in Romania and Bulgaria to put people off the UK. Mark Harper, the immigration minister, also raised the prospect of restricting access to the NHS for some Romanians in Britain.
Corlatean said he had been assured by "official sources" in London that such a negative advertising campaign would not be launched. However, the Observer has learned that the issue of restrictions on access to the NHS was raised at the talks on Friday, where it was agreed that the Romanian and British governments would hold further meetings on the subject.
But the minister for Romanians abroad said that he had told the ambassador that "once we accept there are people legally working in the UK I see them enjoying all the package of living". David said: "These rights come from European citizenship status. Once you are in a space, you cannot have limited rights. If you start limiting health, why not limit other public services? That will affect the freedom of movement of people in the EU space."
Bucharest said that, of the three million Romanians now working abroad, only 100,000 had moved to the UK in the past seven years, and that the vast majority have been well-integrated and valued members of British society.
Romania believes those who wanted to work abroad are already doing so. Its minister for labour, Mariana Campeanu, said that there was no reason to believe there would be large influx to the UK in 2014.
The Romanian language was Latin-based and Italy and Spain were more popular destinations and home to a million Romanian workers, she said.
Campeanu said: "I wonder what the fears are based on. There are no concrete arguments for these fears of some journalists and poiticians. I remind you that the contribution of the Romanian workers for the Olympic Games in London, especially in construction of the famous stadium where lots of the labour force was from Romania and we had a very beautiful achievement."
Corlatean, who met Hague in Brussels last week, said: "Most of the Romanians who came to UK are working hard and honestly. They are paying for social security insurance, as well as for health insurance, they are net contributors to the British health and social systems.
"There are also European rules that have to be applied by all member states. "Our expectations are that these European rules regarding social benefits will be respected by the UK.
"We have been in close contact with our British partners and received, through the foreign secretary and the UK ambassador to Romania, repeated reassurances that the British government will fully comply with the provisions of the accession treaty of Romania and Bulgaria."
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