A couple of days ago, a British politician confessed in a radio interview that he would be concerned if a group of Romanians moved in next door. I know many Britons were shocked by these outrageous remarks because it is hard to believe that in the 21st Century in London - a metropolis where more than 100 nationalities live in harmony - someone could express such a political credo.
The remarks were condemned by outstanding representatives of the British political class and by the media. Deputy prime mininister Nick Clegg was the most pointed in his criticism, telling the BBC: "The mask is starting to slip and I think what's being revealed behind that sort of beer-swilling bonhomie is a really nasty view of the world." Top politicians considered the comments "inappropriate and wrong and offensive", "the politics of anger, rather than the politics of the answer", "hostility and extremism", "a racial slur". Eloquently, The Sun newspaper on Saturday said the comments were "racism, pure and simple".
Facing a fresh barrage of accusations of racism, the author of the statement was forced to explain himself in a new interview: "Do you know what, in life sometimes people get things wrong. I was completely tired out." But just a few short hours after the "tired out" person made a semi-apology for his comments about undesirable Romanian neighbours, he published in Telegraph a defiant advert called "An open letter", associating Romanians with crime.
In the last 17 months a blaming culture and racist attitude has damaged the lives and reputation of thousands of Romanians in the UK. The British public was continuously served with scaremongering about Romanians who, in their vast majority, are hard working people, honest, committed, pay taxes and contribute to the growth of this country. With respect for my compatriots and for the British people, it is time now for this disgraceful campaign to stop.
The "open letter" says "92% of all ATM crime in London is committed by Romanians". This is false. When this allegation was first presented last year, both the Met and the City of London Police strongly denied the figures and criticised them for being misleading and not substantiated by any statistics or current police intelligence. According to the Dedicated Cheque and Plastic Crime Unit in London, "The annual figures show that in 2012 the top five countries for fraudulent activity on UK issued cards were USA, France, Luxembourg, Italy and Ireland". Romanians are not mentioned on this top list.
Then, the letter claims that "28,000 Romanians were arrested in the last five years". But a simple ID check becomes an "arrest" in statistics if a person is asked to go to the police station. In many cases the same person was "arrested" several times. To compare, only in 2012 more than 5.6million crimes were committed in the UK. If multiplied by five years, one could reach the conclusion that 28million people in Britain have committed crimes in the given period of time.
Data published by the Metropolitan Police show that the number of Romanians charged with an offence in London in January 2014 dropped 3%, compared to the same month last year. In many cases Romanians are victims of crimes, with 543 persons in the first three months of 2014. If we take into account an increase in the size of the Romanian populations in the UK during the course of 2013, it is obvious that crime rates are actually falling rather than growing.
At the national level the figures are even more speaking for themselves: in the first three months of 2014 the number of Romanians convicted in the UK was with 15% lower than in the same period of 2013. This is consistent with the trend in 2013 versus 2012, where the reduction was more than 30%.
I went this week to Bristol where our Honorary Consul told me that since the beginning of the year not even one Romanian citizen was arrested. He receives 4-5 phone calls everyday from Romanians asking consular services or how to get a job. No phone call in the last four months was on how to access benefits.
I was recently to Northern Ireland where I met local officials in Belfast, Ballymena, Limavady and Londonderry (ministers, mayors, chiefs of the police, Invest Northern Ireland, NI Cooperation Overseas etc). The message I got from all of them is: "Romanians are honest people, very settled and accepted by the local population. It is very rare to hear of crime cases involving Romanian citizens". Junior ministers Jonathan Bell and Jennifer McCann were clear that it is a broad political consensus in favour of a multicultural and tolerant society ("cohabitation instead of competition") and Romanians are welcomed in the same way as people from Northern Ireland are welcomed to Romania. They underlined the contribution foreigners bring to the Northern Ireland economy and tourism. My visit coincided with Giro d'Italia and it was fantastic to see how different local communities worked together to make the event a success benefitting to all.
Ten days ago I visited the University of Manchester where 300 Romanian students are enrolled. They are praised by their professors. I was invited to see the Graphene Hub, a high tech research laboratory (many years ago I was myself a physicist engineer working in a research institute). The graphene is a two dimensional material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms. It is the thinnest material known and yet is also one of the strongest. It was discovered ten years ago by two scientists from the University who in 2010 received the Nobel Prize for Physics. Among the people working in the Graphene Hub in Manchester I found also Romanian scientists. I wonder who would not be happy to have them as neighbours.
I was to Scotland 16 times and I noticed how friendly Romanians are received by native people in that part of the UK. During my last meeting with Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, she spoke high about Romanians' contribution to the local economy and cultural life. I never detected to my Scottish hosts any racist attitude against Romanians, on the contrary. I was four times to Cardiff where I was impressed how polite and welcoming the Welsh people are. For a foreigner it is really a place to be and Romanians who have chosen Wales feel their work is appreciated.
Post Scriptum: Yesterday, I got some excellent news: the Romanian women's gymnastics team has won nine medals (two gold medals, five silver and two bronze) at the European Championships in Sofia; the Romanian students' team has won seven medals (five gold medals, one silver and one bronze) at the International Chemistry Olympiad in Russia; and the Romanian students' team has won a gold medal at the International Philosophy Olympiad in Vilnius. Who would like to have them as neighbours?