Last year, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) predicted that Romanians and Bulgarians would surf into Britain on an “unprecedented crime wave”, bringing with them a “tidal flood of new immigrants”. The opening of the floodgates would apparently come after working restrictions on citizens of both countries were lifted on 1 January 2014. Romanians in particular were accused of being “new Fagins”, running child pickpocket gangs and sparking a “crime explosion” (a “crimesplosion”?), with up to 5% of the population of Romania pouring into the UK.
Well, now the floodgates have been opened in Britain and seven other EU Member States for almost two months, and a recent survey of airlines and coach companies operating between the UK and Romania and Bulgaria has found no change in the numbers coming from either country. In fact, Romanians and Bulgarian migrants tend to prefer other EU countries to Britain; with 96 per cent of Romanian migrants choosing destinations other than the UK.
Still, many of our commenters remain unconvinced. We had a comment sent in from Paul arguing that:
Even one person who comes to our country with no intention of contributing to society is one too many. That one person is depriving someone who works and pays their way of what they are entitled to. Nobody should be allowed to enter the UK without proof that they are able to support themselves, and as a lifelong UK taxpayer I’m perfectly entitled to say that. I prefer to choose what charities I contribute to
We took this comment to Evgeni Kirilov, a Bulgarian MEP who sits with the Social Democrats in the European Parliament. What would he say to Paul?
Well, to Paul I would say that in Great Britain it is already a proven fact that, after a number of weeks of Bulgarians and Romanians being able to work freely everywhere in the EU, the majority of these citizens are coming interested in jobs and hard work. They’re not looking to exploit the social systems of the countries they are living in. And, I think it’s in the interests of the economic development of the whole of Europe to have this free movement between Member States. It helps the economies of all countries involved, including Great Britain.
However, if there are people who are indeed exploiting the social welfare system of a given country – which I understand is a very, very small fraction of a percentage point – then, of course, those countries have the right to stop them. In fact, according to the present EU rules, they can already do that.
But I think that this issue is being exaggerated and exploited because there is a very strong anti-EU party in Britain – the UK Independence Party – and the present government is actually a little bit concerned about their big support and influence. So, they’re tending to exploit peoples’ fears as well. I think the right approach would just be to remain calm and to look at the real picture, because despite the working restrictions being relaxed there has been no massive influx of Bulgarians and Romanian workers coming to Great Britain so far. And those who stoked the fears of the Great British public will hopefully soon see this and should maybe feel ashamed of this.
We also had a comment sent in by Mihail arguing that the invasion of Romanian and Bulgarian workers in Western Europe is a myth. He believes that the Romanians and Bulgarians that wanted to emigrate have already done so, and their negative reputation in the media is undeserved and caused by only a few individuals, whereas the vast majority have integrated into the societies they have emigrated to.
We took this comment to Traian Ungureanu, a Romanian MEP with the Centre-Right. Did he agree with Mihail?
Well, I think that Mikhail is absolutely right. It is a political myth. I think that certain governments among the Western EU Member States are behaving irresponsibly, with an eye to the electoral campaign for the European elections in May.
The truth is that there’s been no Romanian invasion. As for the statistics we have in January, there were 24 Romanians who entered Britain seeking a job since the beginning of the month, so I think this is the kind of “invasion” the British government can easily cope with.
More worrying is the consequences of this sort of attitude towards European values and the EU’s image as a whole. I don’t think we can have a real European spirit and implement European values and standards as long as Eastern European migrants are treated the way they are in different countries of the European Union.
Have either of these MEPs convinced you? If so, you can vote for their parties (or their rivals) in our Debating Europe Vote 2014! If you remain unconvinced, you can always vote for the Eurosceptics or Conservatives.
Despite predictions of hundreds of thousands of Romanian and Bulgarians pouring into the UK and other Western European states after 1 January 2014, the actual number of immigrants from these countries have been in the low thousands. Has the issue been exaggerated and exploited for political gain? Or should tougher restrictions be placed on EU migrants to stop them abusing benefit systems? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.