For the last six years we have been having the same polemic and continuing a dialogue of the deaf regarding the subject of restrictions on the European labour market applied to Romanians and Bulgarians.
We all know there was a two-year compulsory transition period, and then each state could extend the period with three years, and then restrictions could be applied for two more. Some states (nine in number, to which Spain was added in 2011) considered it was benefic to use all the seven years, but on January 1st they will face the situation of not having what postponements to impose. From my point of view it somehow is a counterproductive situation for all those involved, but especially for the people.
By the means of scientific studies it has been demonstrated that restrictions imposed on the labour market cause negative effects. Illegal work has been encouraged, and thus the Romanian workers did not benefit from the same rights as the other European workers, in many cases being taken advantage upon. These restrictions have encouraged the fiscal evasion and the extension of the phenomenon of fraud in the social care system. The employers stopped paying taxes and dues and this has considerably affected the economy of the host state. It lead to the lowering of wages because of the illegal manning of labour force, thus becoming extremely cheap.
On the other hand, the GDP of several countries increased due to the value of the Romanians’ qualified labour force, who, honestly speaking and by dual politics, is at the same time looked for by the Western countries.
No doubt it was the restrictions that caused the situations and deficiencies the European leaders are now complaining about. If restrictions had been replaced by sound policies regarding labour force, a situation as such would have been avoided.
Romanians and Bulgarians – the escape goats of electoral battles
As populism, euroscepticism and nationalism are spreading in Europe, and as it was expected, the theme of migration became the electoral theme in most European states.
In France, the extreme right party of Marie Le Pen is emblematic. She managed to get a record score, and its main theme was precisely by the criticism against the labour market liberalization and the lifting of restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians, that is for those who would come to take jobs that are due to the French. A strong populist speech, betting on the emotional and the virtual fear of the French, but it is actually a general fear caused by the global crisis, rather than the Romanian migrants.
The same scenario is also found in the United Kingdom and the eurosceptic formation UK Independence Party (UKIP). In Germany it came to nicknames like “poverty immigrants” who pose a threat to social protection services, and thus harsher restrictions have been proposed followed by expulsions and travel bans.
However, if correctly analyzed, we see that all these frustrations expressed by both sides have been generated by the mere presence of these restrictions. If the borders of labour market have been lifted, and the Member States have prepared government strategies to include foreign workers in the domestic labour market, so that to economically maximize the flow of cheap skilled labour force, then maybe now we would not have been in this situation which is already showing as dangerous.
I have appreciated the statement of Scotland, who in a very smart approach says: “We welcome the contribution that the new Scots can bring to economy and society. We work hard to attract the best international talent to our universities and labour market”, mentioned a spokesman for the ruling party.
There are other European officials in Italy, even in Germany, who see the advantages of full liberalization of the European labour market, and especially the economic benefits.
Scandals about the expulsions, the accusations of crime rates, the problems of the Roma community inclusion brought major damage to Romania’s image, a damage that will not be easily mended. All these frustrations will be reflected upon the people who in good faith seek better paid jobs, who probably travel on holiday or who choose to study in the European universities.
Of course there was also pressure form the unemployment rising rate, which is blamed on the presence of Romanian and Bulgarian workers, too. But I wonder if this presentation of reality is not just a game which tried to mask some government deficiencies regarding economic solutions, or rather their lack and inefficiency, deficiencies which are present both in the internal affairs and the social policy sector.
Besides the impact on image, more worrying should be the impact on economy. And if January 2014 is the deadline to which restrictions can be invoked, for the next period much greater efforts are needed to restore labour market rules. All “defense” strategies against the access of Bulgarian and Romanian workers will be in vain, but they will definitely be well publicized. Frustration will increase, and our image abroad will steadily deteriorate.
From the very beginning they should have been designed in a constructive manner to maximize the benefits of a cheap labour force with minimal expectations from the social protection and health care services, and which most importantly is usually highly skilled.
Now the paradox is that the trend of labour migration goes towards the north and not towards the states that imposed severe restrictions. It is an absolutely natural tendency, but with the risk of engaging these countries in the game of populism.
Romania consistently and dramatically loses this workforce. Although we are all aware of the needs of people and the need of finding a better place, however we can not conclude that labour force emigration, especially the one of the highly qualified ones, already presents a serious risk to the Romanian nation.
That said, in the end we gather the fruits of what we have sown. It is important not to make the same mistakes again.