Publicat în 30 ianuarie 2013, 21:00 / 246 elite & idei

Sandra Pralong, The Guardian: Romanians aren’t about to ‘invade’ Britain – so stop the negative campaign

Sandra Pralong, The Guardian: Romanians aren’t about to ‘invade’ Britain – so stop the negative campaign

Sandra Pralong | The Guardian

Britain’s image in Romania is positive, but the EU’s lifting of labour restrictions is unlikely to lead to mass immigration.

Are Romanians already packing their bags to flood the idyllic plains of Britain’s green and pleasant land? You would think so, given the rumours about a negative advertising campaign targeted at Eastern Europe, and one minister’s call for the need to „correct the impression that the streets here are paved with gold”. What the British media has so far ignored is that Romania itself is witnessing the beginning of a conversation about migration to Britain.


Romania’s president Traian Basescu engaged directly with the British tabloid narrative on 21 January, when he told a group of 90 or so foreign ambassadors that „from my position, I assure the British authorities and those concerned that the Romanians will not invade Great Britain. Romania is a very beautiful country”.


Basescu then went on to talk about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, so we have little evidence as to what the presidential assurance might consist of or how the beauty of his country might prevent Romanians from invading Britain. If anything, the beauty argument has in the past worked in the opposite direction by attracting Brits to Romania: among them Prince Charles, who bought and restored several properties in Saxon villages around the city of Sibiu and gave a nudge to several organic food businesses in the region. About once a year His Royal Highness visits his Transylvanian estates to soak up the wild, unaltered natural environment and delight in the local produce.


Actually, the fact that so much of nature remains untamed in parts of Romania seems like the very reason why some Brits fear a Romanian (and Bulgarian) „invasion”, if you listen to fearmongers in the UK. Rather than tending to their own gardens at home, the argument goes, Romanians (and Bulgarians) are likely to come and trample on the lawns of Her Majesty’s subjects once the labour restrictions are lifted at the end of this year.


If you look at it more closely, the whole issue seems overblown, especially with regards to Romanian immigration. Out of a total population of roughly 20 million, it is estimated that up to 2.5 million already work abroad, having emigrated after the country’s EU accession in 2007. In other words, most of those who wanted to leave Romania have already done so. The vast majority of those 2.5 million went to Spain and Italy, mostly because of their affinity with Romance languages and because certain jobs (in agriculture and construction) were plentiful. But aren’t Italy and Spain in an economic crisis, you might say? Surely they’ll move elsewhere in search of jobs. In reality, most have already settled with their families in those newly adopted countries and have acquired new skills – a second migration there looks unlikely.


The more legitimate question is what happens to those who stayed behind in Romania: how likely are they to leave the country and take advantage of the UK’s new openness? The issue has been recently tackled by Ires, one of Romania’s top polling agencies. Asked how interested they are in working abroad, almost half of respondents (45%) answered „absolutely not”, another 20% said they had „little interest”, while only 15% said they were „very interested”. Of those expressing high interest, about one in four would choose the UK as the preferred work destination, followed by Germany, Italy and Spain.


Is one in four much? Is it little? Given the relatively low percentage of those who say they are eager to look for work elsewhere, this ratio means that only about 4% of the overall adult population of Romania would rather live and work in Great Britain. Hardly the hordes feared by some.


It is true that, given the amount of attention the issue is getting in the British media, there has been little discussion about the upcoming lifting of labour restrictions in Romania itself. The Romanian minister of foreign affairs retorted promptly to disobliging remarks made by UK politicians, yet that seemed like a lone reaction, essentially a riposte to the internal electoral debate in the UK. The Romanian media, usually hungry for scandal, has reported the reaction but otherwise stayed silent.


A year seems like a very long time in beautiful Romania, an excessively ebullient country where the attention span rarely manages to transcend the crise du jour. It is thus theoretically possible that the absence of public attention is keeping the numbers of would-be emigrants low. But while Britain’s image in Romania is largely positive, it doesn’t rest in the illusion that life in the UK would be a bed of roses. A 2010 Ires study showed that while many Romanians appreciate the superior British lifestyle and the beauty of its countryside, only half as many wanted to work there or visit. So a campaign to downplay the UK might well be a case of good money wasted on a unnecessary cause.

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