Last week I travelled to Scotland for meetings with members of the Scottish government, local authorities in Edinburgh and Oban and representatives of Romanian communities. My interlocutors made no reference to a "Romanian invasion" which might take their jobs or put pressure on the social and health services next year. On the contrary, I was told Romanians are well integrated and highly valued in the host communities.
On the way back to London, I stopped for lunch in the Lake District. The waiter, Paul (from Leicester), was quite well informed about Romania (football players, Carpathian Mountains, Black Sea etc.) and confessed he learned it from his Romanian colleagues: "There were three Romanians here, but two of them went back to Romania". "Did they leave because they could not adapt to the local environment?" I asked. "Oh! No, sir! They are very hard workers and were regarded as being English as I am. They were homesick that is why they left".
But back in London, I read again in the media that "UK is first choice of young Romanians" and this is "equivalent to 720,000 people". I could only smile, because Migration Watch has previously advanced a number of 50,000 every year, so maybe this last prediction covers the next 12-13 years...
In fact, this is just a distorted interpretation of a recent opinion poll conducted by a Romanian NGO, asking the following question: "If you had the opportunity to choose to be hired in a foreign country, which one would it be?" The first choice was Germany, the second Britain. To a similar question, 48% of Britons declared that they would like to live abroad. Does this mean that 29million Britons are ready to leave their country? Of course, not!
Yes, young Romanians come to study in British universities and the number has risen last year by 28%. Some of the best universities in the world are located in the UK and many Romanian students are among the brightest in the world, so obviously these valuable brains are wanted by the British universities. Needless to say they pay fees in order to study here.
Anther topic is about crime. Rough sleepers are associated with Romanians but statistics from the Westminster City Council show that only 9% of them are Romanian nationals. Councillor Nickie Aiken declared to the West End Extra: "The point we are trying to make is this is not about Romanians per se - the vast majority of who come over to the UK to work. This is about a specific and highly visible minority, the Roma, who are giving Romania a bad name". Westminster police commander Alison Newcomb told the same publication they deal with rough sleepers of all nationalities and urged people to avoid "demonizing one section of the community", while acknowledging the cooperation they have with the Romanian police.
Another headline is about Romanians involvement in thefts from cash machines. Both the Met and the City of London Police strongly denied the figures presented and criticised them for being misleading and not substantiated by any statistics or current "police intelligence". At the end of 2012, only 47 Romanians were detained for fraud related matters. Here again, there is an excellent cooperation between Romanian and British police. Recent statistics from the Metropolitan Police show the number of Romanians arrested in the first quarter of 2013 has fallen by 50%.
A final headline focuses on social benefits abuse, the media having quoted two examples: one from 2007-2009, involving two Romanian citizens, and another from 2007-2008, involving five people. Recently we have only seen a handful of isolated cases of Romanian nationals attempting to defraud the social benefits system. Romanians involvement in social benefits abuse is very limited indeed, as is their claim for social benefits.
Therefore, for Romanians living in the UK it is hard to understand why they have became targets in a political and media game they neither want nor need to play. Anti-EU rhetoric and misleading predictions from nearly a decade ago have combined to create a culture of blame which allows misguided stereotypes of 'bad' Romanians to flourish, unchecked.
Outstanding British personalities - the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Europe Minister, and the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee in the House of Commons - have made public statements on the positive contribution Romanians living in this country bring to the British economy.
Romanians see Britain not only as one of the best friends and partners in Europe but, in many aspects, as a model to follow.