The lifting of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians working in several European Union countries has not seen plane loads of them heading west and the leaders of Bulgaria and Romania have dismissed invasion fears.
Some right-wing British politicians are particularly alarmed but Damian Draghici, an adviser to Romania’s prime minister, said that is nonsense: “I believe that this is more of a political game… or a way to blow things out of proportion. I don’t think Romanians are going to invade England.”
Tjobs, a leading employment recruitment agency in Romania, revealed that recently fewer people there have been asking about jobs in Britain.
Mihai Fertig, an operator of coach services from Romania to the UK, said he is not counting on a boom in business: “The majority of the people who want to work abroad are already there. We expect, because of the opening of the market, that bookings will increase by maybe 10 percent.”
Making the point that he considers the fears to be overblown, opposition British lawmaker Keith Vaz – himself an immigrant – went to a London airport for the new year’s first incoming flight from Romania.
Vaz, who chairs the parliamentary Home Affairs Committee did say there has to be a sensible response: “I think we do need to work out a strategy for dealing with the issue of freedom of movement, and the restrictions of people coming to work in the UK, and unless we do that we’ll have more drama and more crises in years to come.”
Responding to political pressure, British Prime Minister David Cameron did rush through a series of measures to ban EU migrants from claiming unemployment benefits when they first arrive in the UK. They would have to wait three months before they could apply.
That didn’t stop the tabloid Daily Express running a banner front-page headline on Wednesday reading ‘Benefits Britain Here We Come! Fears as migrant flood begins’.
Bulgaria’s President Rosen Plevneliev has urged Britons to ignore negative tabloid headlines and look instead at academic studies which suggest migrants have helped Britain’s economy.
A recent YouGov poll for the Sun tabloid newspaper showed that 72 percent of Britons wanted Cameron to limit immigration from other EU countries.
Those in favour of tighter controls say they are worried about immigrants taking their jobs or straining public services such as schools and healthcare.
EU moves to calm the debate
The European Union also sought to calm fears in countries like Britain, France and Germany that they face a mass influx of Romanians and Bulgarians.
Seeking to calm the debate, U Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor said there were already more than three million Bulgarians and Romanians living in other EU states, and ending all restrictions was unlikely to lead to any major increase.
“I firmly believe that restricting the free movement of European workers is not the answer to high unemployment or a solution to the crisis,” he said, referring to the EU’s lingering economic malaise in the wake of the 2008 global financial meltdown.
Andor acknowledged that a sudden large influx of people from other EU countries could strain education, housing and social services in particular regions.
But the solution was to “address these specific problems, not to put up barriers against these workers,” he said in a statement that did not single out any EU country for criticism.
“In fact, studies have consistently shown the benefits of free movement of workers for the economies of host countries. Mobile workers complement host country workers by helping to address skills gaps and labour shortages.”
The European Commission estimates there are around two million unfilled job vacancies in the EU, he said.