We may not like Britain, but you will love Romania

We have seen these stories about the possible campaign which should discourage people from Romania and Bulgaria from coming to the UK. And also a mocking anti-campaign from Romanian paper Gandul. What does it tell us about the UK perception of Romania and Bulgaria and vice versa?

Franck Düvell, Senior Researcher, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford

I think first we need to understand a couple of issues;

In 2004, when the borders opened for free movement from the EU 10 the prediction was that maybe 20,000 people would come to the UK, that’s what academics and the government told the public. But in the end there were 8-900,000 people, mostly from Poland coming and maybe half stayed for good. This took the government, local services and public by surprise, changed the fabric of entire communities and ever since the public felt misled and government felt that they got it wrong. So this is a bit traumatic and they don’t want to repeat this mistake.

Nevertheless, these people could be easily integrated into the job market as there was still economic growth and plenty of vacancies. So some of this immigration was market and demand driven.

Second, meanwhile, the economic crisis hit the UK relatively hard, unemployment is high and public spending cuts hit the British people pretty hard. There are fewer jobs, few vacancies and contemporary immigration is no longer as market driven as before the crisis. So the perception is that additional migrants really come as competitors for already scarce jobs and resources and that they rather come for welfare because there are no more vacancies. So there is this maybe partly understandable sense of the public and the people to not wanting to share the already squeezed resources (jobs, public services) with even more people.

Third, the government has changed and with it the public and media discourse. Whilst under labour at least until 2006 maybe there was this more open approach to migration and the idea that migration is a welcomed element of globalisation and contributes to the wealth of society and economy the now prevailing image of migration is one of threat. This merges with a strong Europhobic trend into an insular, protectionist, anti-immigration anti-EU and nationalist discourse.

The current suggestions of a negative image campaign is an attempt to prevent more legitimate immigration from the EU into the UK. It certainly came up because under EU law the British or any other EU governments has almost no legal means of stopping internal EU mobility. So it is a bit of a strange idea but all they can do really to govern the flow of people within Europe. However, I have never heard of such ideas before and it seems to me a bit of a desperate effort. I don’t think that it will work, people have their own ideas, images and perceptions, right or wrong, of the UK or other potential destination countries; it is rather experiences like not finding a job, being homeless etc, as well as genuine media coverage of conditions in the UK that may impact on peoples’ aspirations, images and actual migration but not such campaigns. On the other hand, such campaigns could be an offence to the Romanian and Bulgarian people who are already looked at with suspicion by other European countries. The Romanian response of the Gandul newspaper, is a great idea, it turns things upside down, almost like a paradoxical intervention. Whilst in a subtle way it highlights the offence people take in Romania and Bulgaria from this idea of a negative image campaign it also ridicules the UK’s move and turns it into a campaign of pride. It is also maybe unconsciously corresponding with the fact that UK emigration rates are very high, over 350,000 in 2012 and for long buying property in and retiring to Romania and Bulgaria is advertised on flight magazines like that of Easy Jet! So there is indeed this two-way migration which the British pubic likes to overlook and which the Gandul newspaper response reflects so well.

Tim HaughtonReader (Associate Professor) in European Politics, Director, Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Birmingham

The media campaign should not be seen as the singling out of Bulgarians and Romanians for special criticism, rather the campaign is driven by two factors. Firstly, a desire to pander to the vocal eurosceptic voices in Britain and secondly, the fact that opening the labour markets to the 2004 EU entrants led to a much larger influx of foreigners than was expected.

Vihar GeorgievPhD student, European Studies Department, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski

The measures proposed by the UK government in order to discourage further immigration from Bulgaria and Romania are a clear sign of political weakness and failure of imagination. First, the focus on “unwanted” immigration from the two relatively small Member States is an attempt to mask a much deeper problem of irregular immigration to the UK from Africa, India and Pakistan. It is much easier to target Bulgarians and Romanians, since you won’t be accused of racism. Second, the proposed measures are ineffective and may infringe relevant EU law. In conclusion, David Cameron and his government are showing their incapacity to deal with irregular immigration in a comprehensive and effective way.

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2 Responses

  1. It is certainly an absurd situation by which a country is spending a good deal of money telling foreigners how rubbish the country is. I’m glad to learn from this article that the Romanian press is giving the British government the mockery it deserves about this!

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