Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sweden, and Migrants From Romania and Bulgaria

by Edward Hugh

The change of government in Sweden seems to mark something of a change in the attitude towards economic migration. The new governemnt of Fredrik Reinfeldt seems to be happy to accept an inflow of workers from Romania and Bulgaria when they join the EU in January:

"The Swedish government is unlikely to introduce restrictions on Bulgarian or Romanian workers," a press secretary for Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Roberta Alenius, told AFP, confirming comments made earlier by Reinfeldt.

The Scandinavian country together with Britain and Ireland were the only members of the EU to welcome workers from the 10 countries which joined the club in 2004.

Alenius stressed that Sweden's four-party coalition government had not yet discussed the issue and that the ultimate decision would be taken by parliament.

"Sweden did not impose restrictions for the last 10 countries. It should be the same for these two countries," Reinfeldt told Swedish news agency TT.

This is rather different to the state of play of the debate in the UK right now:

The UK government is to abandon its 'open-door' policy to eastern Europe by restricting the inflow of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants when their countries join the European Union in January.

In a dramatic U-turn that has been attacked as a sop to the anti-immigration lobby, John Reid, the Home Secretary, will unveil plans to prevent thousands of people from Romania and Bulgaria coming to Britain to work. His move comes after sustained criticism that Polish immigrants are entering the country in unsustainable numbers.

Understandably the Romanian community in the UK seems to be up in arms:

The letter from senior Romanian figures in Britain to Downing Street, signed by a number of leading cultural and social organisations, claims that Romania is being unfairly treated following hostile media coverage. Urging Blair to 'follow your beliefs', it says: 'We are deeply concerned about the denigrating campaign of the past weeks in the British media that does significant harm to the true image of Romania. The numbers of Romanians who intend to come to work in the UK after 1 January, 2007, have been highly exaggerated.'

Opening the doors would fuel economic growth and 'drastically reduce incentives' for illegal labour, the letter says, adding that the typical immigrant would be young and single and 'it is unlikely that he/she would overburden the UK education and health system'.

But interestingly arguments similar to those currently being heard in the US seem to be gaining ground:

However, Labour MPs say their constituents are uneasy about rapidly changing communities and wages being undercut by eastern European workers.

Of course the interesting thing now will be to see what the opposition, lead by David Cameron, have to say. Will they follow the lead of their Swedish Colleagues, and will the voters support them?


Lars Smith said...

Possibly the UK government is afraid of the reaction to a very large immigration of gypsies. I dread to think of what an influx of a few tens of thousands Romanian and Bulgarian gypsies would do to Swedish politics.

Colin Reid said...

I don't think Cameron will be speaking too decisively in favour of immigration. He's trying to outflank Labour by appearing more 'friendly' than them, but he's been deliberately vague in doing this, for fear of going against the authoritarian streak that seems to have captured the public mood in recent years. As for the rest of the Conservative party, you only have to look at their 2005 election campaign to gauge just how nasty the 'nasty party' could be on immigration and the rights of immigrants. Cameron will do well to keep the troglodyte wing of his party quiet, never mind forcing them to go in the opposite direction.

I doubt the Roma are anywhere near as disadvantaged in the UK as they are in Romania or Bulgaria, but it seems nothing stirs up Daily Mail-style nimbyism more than new caravan settlements (perhaps because home ownership is seen as the entire foundation of society, so those who opt out are subversives of the highest order). A perceived 'flood of gypsies' is exactly the kind of thing the xenophobic press (both local and national) like to seize upon to excite their readers, whether or not large-scale Roma migration actually occurs.

Edward said...


"I don't think Cameron will be speaking too decisively in favour of immigration."

Thanks for the tip on Cameron. It's hard for me from the outside to really judge this type of thing. I was just struck by the change of tone he seems to represent (things he has been saying about India too). The conservative party I remember was obviously strongly anti-immigrant, but this seems to be changing to some extent. I mean this is a far cry from M. Thatcher's blatantly racist stance on South Africa, or of course, from Enoch Powell.

If they do mange to convert themselves once more into a 'governable' party then this may be in alliance with the Lib Dems, and again this reality will put some sort of interpretation on Cameron's statements.

Lars and Colin

Somehow I doubt we are about to see the mass migration of Roma out of Romania that some seem to fear. Among other things because these communities are themselves hugely conservative (the film Gadjo Dilo from French director Tony Gatlif is quite instructive here). I think the British expression 'travelling people' is misleading since it has little to do with the current realities of most European gypsies, who have been sedentary for decades at least.

This is certainly the situation in Spain. Also in Spain the Romanians used to be the largest migrant group by numbers (this may have changed in the last couple of years), but very few of these are gypsies. And remember these migrants have been arriving on an irregular basis, undocumented.

In fact Romanian migrants achieved something of a special status here in Spain after the March 11 bombings, since they were the migrant group who suffered the most casualties being packed together in the now legendary 'wagon de los Romanos'. As people may remember the fact that the bombing occured early in the morning, taking people to work from largely working class districts of Madrid, and that the victims were mainly *on their way to work* was one of the first clues that the thing might not be the handiwork of Eta. So these poor Romanians hardly fitted in with the stereotypes many seem to have.

Of course Romania is also the land of Emil Cioran, Mircea Eliade and Eugene Ionesco. Indeed Bucharest, along with Barcelona and Buenas Aires, was once considered to be a 'mini Paris'

Obviously some Romanian gypsies have arrived in Spain, and their behaviour does at times cause problems, particularly one notable practice of sending children out to steal handbags etc from tourists. This has been a very time consuming issue for the police, quite simply because they don't want to institutionalise the young people involved, so they end up getting released and immediately re-offending. But again, lets not get this out of perspective, the numbers have been comparatively small, and the issue has been one of irritation, rather than real serious harm. The probelm also, thankfully, seems to be coming under control.

OTOH there is a serious and ongoing problem with organised crime groups from the East of Europe here. Especially groups formed by former members of the security forces from the ex-Yugoslavia who are causing all kinds of problems with serious and systematic break-ins. But gypsies generally don't have the skills required to engage in these practices.

So I'm not saying migration is without its attendant problems, anything in life has problems attached, there *are* no free lunches. The issue is what kind of a future do you want, and just how much importance do you attach to your pension, and the employment opportunities of your children (if you have any that is).

"going against the authoritarian streak that seems to have captured the public mood in recent years."

Yes, I've been noticing this. Sometimes when I look at our species I can only throw my hands in the air in despair, people don't seem to know when they are lucky. I mean the UK can safely assume that the problems currently hitting Germany, Japan, Italy etc won't be reaching them (France too) for at least another twenty years, and this delay, which may well be critical since it may mean that people will have had the time to think about and develop systematic policy responses before the inevitable (in terms of population decline) happens, is largely thanks to having had significant quantities of migrants arriving over the years.

"more than new caravan settlements (perhaps because home ownership is seen as the entire foundation of society,"

It's funny, when I think of trailer parks these days somehow I immediately conjure up in my mind images from the United States. Maybe I've just been watching too many films.

Edward said...

btw, what I also meant to say was that if the governments of Spain and Greece also agree to accept workers from Bulgaria and Romania, then the ones who want to move will probably head south. In part for cultural reasons, and in part becuase there are already large communities of migrants from B&R in these countries.

Of course having said this, any large and sustained out-migration from these countries (like the one we have just seen from Poland) would be highly detrimental to the longer term future of both of them. Bulgraia already has large numbers of people working abroad, and I doubt there will be many more to come. The change of status will however allow people to regularise their situation.

To put all of this in perspective, the key issue here is still the absence of accumulated pensions resources in the Eastern countries.

If we take Bulgaria, the state pension is around 50 euros a month, and many important forms of medication are expensive to obtain there. Teachers salaries are in the 150-200 euros per month range. So a young couple on these kinds of salaries really cannot support their parents systematically. They are forced to come to the west by the absence of liveable pensions, and then send the money home. My guesss is that the Balitic states would be other examples (this eg, may be why so many Latvians have shown up in Ireland) but I don't have the necessary data.

In the Bugarian case, if you have a sick parent, just getting the medication on prescription here can make the stay in Spain worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Edward, your point is correct. The state pension here in Bulgaria is around 55 euro which is far away of normal. The minimal salary is 120 euro per month and the average is 260 euro. What they still do is to declare an amount close to the minimum and then pay the worker the difference so the employer and the worker both avoid taxes. In most cases the employee itself seeks for this option. I myself had an average of 1960 euro per month for 2008 and the amount went down to 1350 after taxes. These 600 euro have gone nowhere because the government steals taxpayers` money - people see this and they do not want to declare the real amounts. There were ministers involved in this and they had deep relations with the Bulgarian mafia. It is still not clear to me why Europe agreed to offer membership to us. A lot of people emigrate because they are sick of the corrupted soil laid by so many governments, the Bulgarian nation, or whatever is left of it, mutated to a new society which lives on this soil and is built with corruption and repressions. This new society will need 40-50 years to transform itself to the European model. A lot of rich Bulgarians buy properties in the UK and Germany just to move away of this paradox.

Best regards,