Jan 1st, 2014: Opening the EU gates

Photo: Traian Olinici
Photo: Traian Olinici

It’s a very cold morning in Bucharest, Romania, but several hundreds of people are preparing their suitcases, sitting right in the street. Buses are waiting for them, while the drivers are checking the travelling papers. There are people of different ages, all of them prepared to spend the next more than 48 hours in bus, taking them to countries like Germany, Netherlands or even Luxembourg.  No bus to UK, this time, but usually there are also 2 or 3 buses to this country. Some of them are going to work, some of them just visiting their families working, most of them in Germany, so for them it maybe a winter holiday-but still far away from home; and you cannot see Santa Claus around or hear „Jingle bells”.

It is quite a familiar scene in Romania. Such buses started to leave since 90s and the period when Romania has become an EU member saw an influx of Romanians leaving their country, because of the poverty.

But now, from January 1st 2014, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will be allowed to work without any restrictions in all the EU countries, including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, UK, Netherlands and Spain; all these countries have kept partially working restriction for Romania and Bulgaria after their accession to EU, in 2007.

While is an increasing demand for workforce from Romania in the two biggest EU economies, UK and Germany, at least in one of them, Great Britain, opening the gates is subject of an intensive negative campaign, mostly run by a political force, UKIP, and several tabloid newspapers.

Tough words like „invasion” or „criminals” are used to justify a one year campaign focused on the poorest EU nation citizens, Romanian and Bulgarians. Answers are coming both from Romania and Bulgaria, on different tones, from statements assuring that „workers who had wanted to go to UK are already there” to accusation of discrimination against Romanian and Bulgarian citizens.

In Germany there were also several isolate negative reactions, while in Netherlands the campaign against lifting working restrictions was run by right wing party leader Geert Wilders.

Millions of Romanians are already working in the EU countries, most of them in Spain in Italy, but according to jobs agencies in Romania, there is a switch, both in terms of requests and demands: Germany and UK are now on the top of the countries, instead of Spain and Italy severly affected by the economic crises.

According to German Government figures, about 200 000 Romanians were registered as workers in Germany at the end of 2012.  About 25% of the jobs offered by German companies to Romanians through a jobs website are in fields requiring high qualification, like medical sector, engineering or IT, while the rest are in hotels, restaurants, au pair, construction, agriculture.

While working in EU is the last solution for many Romanians in a country where most monthly salaries are around several hundreds Euros, for many of them leaving Romania is just a temporary option, but with salaries like 1400 Euros per month in Germany..

Negative campaigns, especially in UK, touched also some other topics, like „social tourism” – people travelling to UK only to get the social help from  the Government, the situation of Roma community and also the „export” of criminality to other EU countries. But most of the reactions show the figures connected to these topics are quite small and not able to prove these are mainstream trends.



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