Wednesday

25th May 2016

Opinion

Nobody to blame for Europe's problems? Pick a Romanian!

  • Graffiti in Bucharest, criticising the greed of local politicians (Photo: Valentina Pop)

"These bloody Romanians. And Bulgarians. About to raid our countries, abuse our welfare systems, steal our jobs, probably our cars and wallets, too ..."

No German or British politician will say it so bluntly, but that is the gist of it.

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The interior ministers of Britain, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are jointly cooking up a plan on how to limit "welfare tourism" targeting Romanians and Bulgarians.

Lifting labour market restrictions next year? Good grief!

One in three Romanians in London is a jailed thief or rapist, writes the Daily Mail, based on Scotland Yard numbers. Almost 30,000 Romanian suspects were arrested in the last five years in London.

But with some 300,000 British and non-British suspects arrested every year, the Romanian arrests amount to some ... two percent of that total figure. And these are suspects of a crime, who first have to stand trial - some of them may be wrongly accused.

The real question is, what does freedom to work in Britain have to do with catching criminals?

And why are British Conservatives pandering to the anti-immigrant Ukip party on this issue?

Are British politicians seriously condoning the idea that Romanians are more crime-prone by nature than other nations?

Already they are toying with the idea of restricting health care access, social benefits and jobs for Romanians. What is next, shop signs saying "No Romanians allowed"?

Cue the German "welfare tourism" debate, heating up particularly among Bavarian Conservatives. Bavaria will be a battleground for both regional and federal elections on 22 September. And immigration is an easy sell. Schengen membership for Romania and Bulgaria? Letting those corrupt gangsters be the guardians of EU borders to the east? Nein!

Interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a Bavarian Conservative, has even suggested a travel ban on Romanians who were repatriated after "abusing" the German welfare system.

"Those who come to work are welcome, but we must not accept that people come here just for the social benefits," is Friedrich's favourite mantra nowadays.

He does not say it, but he means Roma families who are entitled to around €200 per child every month and usually have several kids.

As hundreds of thousand of Roma have Romanian passports, the term "Romanian" is often used as an euphemism for the borderline racist term "gypsy."

As a Romanian, it feels sad enough that 24 years after Communism collapsed and the dream of liberty seemed to finally come true, Romania and Bulgaria remain the poorest EU countries, with serious social problems, with political elites still motivated by petty interests. Yes, corruption is a big issue. People have no trust in policemen or judges.

But these are also countries where people are starting to stand up for what they believe in. Bulgarian street protests just ousted a government, Romania did the same last year.

They protest against corrupt politicians, against big corporations destroying the countryside in the search for gold or gas, they want bicycle lanes, parks for their kids to play. A normal life.

So don't worry, Britain and Germany, there will be no mass invasion. Rather, a velvet revolution.

The author is a Romanian journalist and EUobserver's Berlin correspondent

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