With the European Union lifting curbs on Romanians and Bulgarians from working across the 28-nation bloc on the first day of the year, a number of strains have surfaced in crisis-hit Europe. After the southern European nations joined the alliance seven years ago, citizens of the poorest countries in the bloc were given the right to work only with transitional controls.
With Europe fighting a debilitating debt crisis, unemployment across the continent, especially in the south — Italy, France and Greece — has surged. Europeans see the move by Brussels as a threat to their prospects of finding employment in weakening economies that are struggling with huge debts and declining outputs. Political parties in the continent, especially those with rightist leanings, see this as an opportunity to cash in on mass sentiments of discontent in the population. Far-right political groupings like Greece’s Golden Dawn will likely use the issue to whip up nationalistic and communal frenzy. The party is known to target immigrants in the crisis-hit country, stoking sentiments in the citizenry that is finding it hard to swallow the bitter pill of austerity for close to eight years now.
Italy is already rife with anti-immigrant sentiments. The island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean Sea has become a byword for hundreds of desperate Africans trying to make it to the ‘Europe of their dreams’. Island residents have tried to thwart Africans from stepping ashore — with many an immigrant boat the target of hostile residents.
Bulgarians and Romanians have lived with the reputation of being on the fringes of development and meeting the requirements of the low-end job market. The Romas — who are stateless people and don’t have much to do with the organised job market — are present in large numbers in the two states. Though they are innocuously placed to affect any policy by Brussels or be affected by it, many a far right party might use the latest move by the EU executive to rally anti-immigrant sentiment.
There have been murmurs of discontent in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition against the latest EU move. Coalition partner Christian Social Union (CSU), which is Merkel’s ruling party in Bavaria, has spoken with concern about “benefit tourism.” CSU has spoken about the fear of abuse of the welfare system. However, the Foreign Ministry has hit out at any scepticism over Romanians and Bulgarians in the employment circuit.
Thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians have been working in all European Union nations and other countries on the fringes of the alliance. The idea of Europe has been based on freedom of movement and integration of the job market. Europeans will be able to soon figure out that the EU executive is not wrong•