Samuel Beckett, one of the most influential writers of the last century, is best knows as one of the creators of the 'Theatre of the Absurd'. His most well-known play, Waiting for Godot, offers a tragicomic outlook on human nature. This is an absurdist comedy in two acts in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait endlessly and in vain for the arrival of someone named Godot. This play was once voted "the most significant English language play of the 20th Century".
It seems that a new version of Waiting for Godot is being reinvented by part of the British media who are desperately waiting for the arrival of millions of Romanians after 1 January 2014. It was also suggested I go to Heathrow and Luton airports to greet Romanians who will come to the UK. I also received requests for interviews on Christmas Day to comment on the wave of Romanians who will flood Britain. But even though my English friends believe that after six years here I have acquired a British sense of humour, I have to admit that it has some limits and therefore I declined all these invitations.
On the flight into Luton airport on the 1 January (at Heathrow, the flight expected from Bucharest was cancelled as there were no passengers), only two Romanians came to the UK to take advantage of the lifting of border restrictions, and both having firm job offers - one washing cars, the other as a doctor in Essex. The overwhelming majority of the passengers were Romanians returning to jobs after having enjoyed Christmas with their families at home, or Britons coming home after skiing in the Carpathians.
I must confess that my wife and I are guilty of bringing Romanians to the UK for Christmas and New Year celebrations: our daughter came from Brussels and a family of friends from Romania. As all these three persons will be leaving Britain in the next few days, I therefore hope they will not be counted to the millions of Romanians expected to invade the island.
On 31 December 2013, Migration Watch released a briefing paper stating that "Romanian and Bulgarian migrants in Spain and Italy may choose to move to the North of Europe where employment opportunities are considerably greater as are financial rewards. In light of this analysis we stand by our central estimate that 50,000 people from Romania and Bulgaria will move to the UK each year for five years". The argument is a simplistic arithmetic: the economic gains in moving to the UK and Ireland are double to those of moving to Spain and Italy.
On 16 January 2013, Migration Watch estimated up to 70,000 people to come every year to the UK from both countries, and at that time Romanians and Bulgarians living in Spain and Italy were not included. The arithmetic was, once again, simple: by extrapolating the number of Poles who came to the UK (one million out of 38million people in Poland), Migration Watch guessed the number of Romanians and Bulgarians (from a combined population of 29million inhabitants) who will choose Britain . With all due respect, I think the weak point in both studies is that arithmetic very much differs from sociology.
Central and Eastern European countries which joined the EU on 1 April 2004 got immediate access to the labour market but only in the UK, Ireland and Sweden. In the case of Romania and Bulgaria, restrictions were lifted seven years after their EU membership and simultaneously by 15 EU member states (the other 10 having done so before). Since 1 January 2007, Romanian citizens have been free to exercise their right to free movement, therefore in the last seven years most of those wanting to work abroad already took advantage of this possibility.
All evidence suggests that Britain is not a preferred destination for Romanian migration. Indeed, the majority of Romanians who have decided to work abroad have chosen countries with closer linguistic and cultural links, like Spain, Italy or France, and currently there is no evidence that they would intend to move to the UK. If there are people who would come from Spain, it is more likely to be Spaniards because, according to British statistics, in 2013 the number of national insurance numbers (NINOs) released to Romanians decreased by 22%, whereas the number of NINOs released to Spaniards increased by 50%.
Taking into account the near-exhaustion of Romania's potential to "export" workers and the fact that my country is now the fastest-growing economy in the EU, lifting restrictions on 1 January 2014 is unlikely to lead to a massive increase in the number of Romanians coming to the UK.
A report published last November by the University of Reading revealed that "Relative income levels (GDP per capita) are not found to be a significant determinant of A2 migration distribution. Similarities between the EU15 countries, compared to conditions in Bulgaria and Romania, make the each of these a desirable destination."
Similarly, on 23 December the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) concluded that: "Romanians and Bulgarians will not flood UK in 2014 and it is likely that patterns of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria will be different to those seen after the A8 countries joined the EU in 2004". So, no mass stampede, this time.
Nevertheless, part of the British media continues to run alarmist reports about the imminent influx from these countries. What is it about this group of people that makes them so "dangerous" to the UK - a country which welcomed more than a hundred of foreign nationalities, spread up its civilization all over the world and is rightly admired for its sense of justice and fair play? I have lived for six years in the UK, enough to discover Britain's true values: national pride, an incredible rich history, cultural diversity and high moral standards. Therefore, it comes as a great surprise to see how attitudes towards Romania have become so easily formed by misguided and biased opinions.
An answer is offered by Paul Quinn, a British columnist for the Guardian:
Populist politicians' attempts to fan the flames of hatred rely on our hardwired suspicion of outsiders. This predisposition towards suspicion of immigrants means that reports that portray them negatively find fertile ground. I have found the reaction in the British press to be both fascinating and terrifying. Stigmatising attacks are even more effective in times of material shortage, perhaps explaining why the reaction to increased Romanian and Bulgarian immigration appears to be so much more visceral than it was for other East Europeans who migrated in 2004. History is replete with examples of those fanning the flames of hatred, exploiting the dark side of our human nature for their own benefit. Let us hope these lessons remain with us after 1 January.
On a more optimistic note, a poll commissioned by the think tank British Future and published on 28 December shows "72% of Britons aged 35-44 welcome Romanians and Bulgarians coming to work and play by the rules in the UK". Most of Romanians who came to the UK did so for work, not for benefits. We also plead in favour of honest, hard-working people, who pay taxes and contribute to society.
British companies are currently advertising 5,000 posts for Romanians to plug gaps in the highly skilled jobs market (after all, the Romanian community in the UK has the highest proportion of highly-educated people of all foreigners in this country) and in areas ranging from doctors and nurses, to care home workers, taxi drivers and hotel staff. But with all this insulting media campaign against Romanians, the UK employers, too, will probably wait for Godot.