Bitter Debate Marks Lifting of Bulgaria and Romania Labor Restrictions
By Honor Mahony
The restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians being allowed to work throughout the EU will be lifted on Wednesday but the debate surrounding the move has been bitter.
On 1 January, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Spain and the UK will no longer be allowed to bar citizens from the two countries from coming to work.
The 7-year restrictions, imposed from the moment Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, were the longest permitted under EU rules, meant to allow national labor markets a transitional period.
However in the meantime there has been a rise in anti-immigration parties in several member states while the EU as a whole has seen record-high unemployment rates.
The economic crisis prompted Spain to reverse its initial decision not to bar workers from the two countries to then restricting Romanian workers.
But it is the UK where the debate about the expiry of the 31 December deadline has been the fiercest.
Much of the internal discussion has focused on the fact that the previous government underestimated the number of migrants from other EU states after the 2004 round of enlargement.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron, spooked by the rise in popularity of the anti-immigrant UKIP party, has stoked popular fears about benefits tourism: people coming to the UK simply to avail of its welfare system.
Just weeks before the deadline, he announced a series of measures to curb benefits for Bulgarians and Romanians, including a minimum-earning threshold as well as deportation for those found begging.
The government made the move despite admitting that it has no figures on welfare tourism.
It has also led a front at the EU level along with Germany, Austria and the Netherlands calling for a rule change to make it harder for migrants to get benefits.
The European Commission responded by saying none of the four countries has provided any evidence to back up their claims.
Brussels also produced a study showing that the majority of migrants go to other EU countries to work and on average use the welfare system less than the nationals of the country.
Under pressure from the handful of member states, the commission in early December announced some new rules to help prevent cases of welfare tourism.
However they were denounced as insufficient by both the UK and Germany where the anti-immigration debate is also picking up.
The CSU party, the Bavarian allies of German chancellor Angela Merkel, has drawn up a list of proposals to make it more difficult for Romanians and Bulgarians to have access to the welfare system.
Over the weekend it was accused of populist tactics for considering slogans such as "those who cheat are out."
Politicians in Romania and Bulgaria have called for tolerance in response to the debate.
Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta told euronews early December that Romanians will not invade the UK and that those who wanted to go abroad had already left.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev asked whether the UK is switching "to isolation, nationalism and short-term political approaches."
Meanwhile a recent poll showed that sentiment among the population is more nuanced than the debate at political level.
An Ipsos Mori poll found that 68 percent of Britons would welcome Romanians and Bulgarians if they integrate and work hard.
Bulgaria and most of Eastern Europe of course have nobody else to blame for it’s economic “misfortune” but itself. This entire area always allowed to be led by other inventiveness and ideologies and never took the initiative of being the innovative, driving and financial leader of the world. …..
Then again we must be fair in our judgements and statements and comment on the last half a century of Western “prosperity”. We must mention also the present reality of the US, and Western Europe and their extreme debt levels. Their CREDIT based economies and prosperity (the credit masters of disguised prosperity) is presently unsustainable. Credit and financing is the “lifeblood”, the “oxygen” and etc. of development and prosperity to which Bulgaria and Eastern Europe never had sufficient access.
Just imagine if you could inject a loan with the amount of one annual Bulgarian GDP (around $100 billion) (that’s approximately what most western countries are in debt, 100% of their GDP) in its economy and infrastructure. The country definitely would look and feel prosperous and Bulgarians would have a living standard equal to that of their western counterparts.
Well you let the British foxes beat you again and then go slave for them in their country.
Be upset with yourselves and nobody else!