The answer depends on who you ask this question. Politicians from a party known for its xenophobic slogans insist that 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians will invade British shores. I can only smile, as this figure represents the entire population of both countries combined.
The Democracy Institute, an American think tank, predicts that 385,000 people will migrate from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK over the next five years. As this figure comes from a secret method of evaluation, nobody could challenge it but, again, a smile is allowed. Migration Watch advanced 50,000 persons a year.
A survey commissioned by the BBC's Newsnight suggests that less than 1% of adult Romanians could look for work in the UK. The survey revealed that they are likely to have a university degree and are aged 25-44. Another survey, conducted by the Infopolitic Center for Studies and Research in Bucharest, concluded that 0.56% of Romanians are interested to find jobs in Britain. In both evaluations the total number is 15-20,000 people. Finally, a report commissioned by the UK Government in 2010 estimates that 8,000 Romanians will come to Britain in 2014. From 8,000 to 385,000 it is a huge field open to speculations exploited by tabloid media and the UKIP.
14million EU citizens live today in another EU country. A poll has found that immigration is seen as a bigger problem in the UK than anywhere else. It also found that Britons hugely overestimate the number of foreigners in the country - guessing on average that 31% of the population were immigrants, when the actual figure is 12%. But, surprisingly, no one in the EU migrates more than Britons do. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 4.7million British people live outside their own country, and almost half of them have settled elsewhere in the EU. There are thousands of Britons who work in Romania. If you demand the right to seek work in someone else's country, they should be able to do the same in yours. That is only fair.
It is legitimate to ask who is entitled to get social benefits in your country. As of February 2013, over 5.5million people were claiming DWP social benefits. Of these, 7% are estimated to have been non-UK nationals. Asia and Middle East (32%) and Africa (24%) form the largest proportion of those claimants who were non-UK nationals, whereas only 31% were from within the EU. Romania is not in the top 20 nationalities claiming social benefits in the UK.
I agree that in order to receive benefits, you should have made a contribution first. But when legally entitled to benefits, an EU citizen should get the same treatment in another EU country as the country's nationals. This is a basic principle of the EU. According to British media, ten thousands Britons in Germany get in total £230million in jobseekers' allowance each year.
It is in the interest of all European countries to fight against abusing the social and benefits systems, and Romania fully supports legal measures against those that break the law. But this must not affect the principle of free movement of people. Most of Romanians who came to the UK did so for work, not for benefits. We plead in favour of honest, hard working people, who pay taxes and contribute to the society.
So, how many Romanians will come to Britain in 2014? Most probably, they will be fewer than in the previous years. Not because the UK is unattractive. In fact, Britain is a tempting destination for everyone who wants to learn the history of modern civilisation, or to understand the trends of the future. But seven years after the borders were opened, Romanians who wanted to emigrate already did so, and our community in the UK is significantly smaller than in other EU member states, such as Spain, Italy, France or Germany. Romanians have now another interesting destination: their own country. Romania's economy records the highest growth rate in Europe and the unemployment is low, so more and more Romanians are coming back home.
Recently, the bosses of Mark and Spencer, Domino and Ocado complained that "they are finding harder and harder to hire staff". One of them acknowledged that "We could fill 1,000 jobs across the UK tomorrow if we could get candidates to apply for them". If the vilification of Romanians will continue, I would not exclude that similar shortages will appear in financial services, IT, research or the NHS.
A study from the Centre for Economic and Business Research found that tighter immigration controls would result in a loss of 2% from GDP by 2050, equivalent to £60billion. The Office for National Statistics predicts that the UK would need seven million more migrants over the next 50 years in order to keep debt down. I wait to see the conclusions of the Balance of Competences report on the freedom of movement, expected to be published last Monday but delayed until next January.
Some people here want the UK to leave the EU. It is, of course, the sovereign right of the British people to decide on this issue. They also ask expelling foreigners, as a local political leader clearly suggested: "Send them all back home. I just want to send the lot back, but I can't say that". Paradoxically, the same people wish to win the elections for the European Parliament. Out of Europe, but in the EP - that's a quite interesting choice.
I believe that Europe needs the UK as much as the UK needs Europe. Ludwig Erhard, former Chancellor of West Germany, rightly remarked that "Without Britain, Europe would remain only a torso". Romanians and Britons are both Europeans. We share similar interests and believe in the same values. Quoting Lady Thatcher, "Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the community".
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