In January 2014, European Union members will be required to open their labor markets for citizens of Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the EU in 2007. The potential migrants are already being perceived as a threat to the countries of Western Europe. As an example of the consequences of an open labor market, politicians are abolishing the restrictions on free movement for citizens from the EU-8 countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Hungary).
Eight Eastern European countries received the right to work without limitations in all EU member countries on May 1, 2011. As a result, between April 2011 and January 2012, according to statistics from the European Migration Center (EMC), the number of labor migrants from the EU-8 countries to Germany rose by 48,000 and reached a record number of 271,000. For comparison, in previous years and for the same period from April to January, the number of migrants decreased on average by 10-20,000 because of the seasonality of most of their jobs. A major proportion of migrants – nearly 66% – are Polish citizens.
Despite the frightening increase in the number of migrants in such a short period of time, EMC researchers claim that the proportion of new arrivals is within the normal range. In their opinion, the jump in numbers is mainly due to the fact that migrants who were working illegally in Western Europe now have the chance to gain official employment.
The opening of the labor market for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens has traditionally been a concern for the UK. The British believe that their interests are most affected by the wave of migrants from former Warsaw Pact countries. They contribute to the unrest and skepticism throughout the British Isles in relation to continental Europe, the euro, and the European Union, not to mention a negative attitude towards migrants. The shadow Minister of Immigration, Chris Bryant, criticized the Tesco and Next corporations back in August for their attempt to recruit migrants from Eastern European countries. For example, according to the Minister, Tesco has cut salaries for its British workers, forcing them to look for new jobs, while replacing them with migrant workers who agree to work longer hours for less money.
The Netherlands isn’t far behind the UK either. The Party for Freedom is backing a hard line against immigrants and in 2012 it launched a web project that provided the Dutch a place to complain about immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe.
Romanian and Bulgarian authorities are trying to fend off such accusations as best they can. Ivanka Ivanova, a spokesperson from the Open Society Institute, said that emigration from Bulgaria reached its peak long ago. She maintains that she doesn’t see the preconditions for a huge jump in the number of migrants. According to the institute’s data, a large number of Bulgarians who want to leave prefer Spain, where there are no labor restrictions, and Germany, since the two countries’ economies are closely tied. The Open Society doesn’t expect a sharp rise in the number of migrants after January 2014. Bulgarian politicians are also emphasizing that those who want to take advantage of social benefits in Western European countries are not involved with labor restrictions and have already been emigrating since 2007. Bulgarian and Romanian politicians also deny that the rise in the number of immigrants will increase crime rates in Western Europe.
According to research done by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the new wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe is unlikely to exceed tolerable levels. A report from the Foreign Office says that most immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania will continue to head to Spain because of a similar mentality and linguistic characteristics. It is expected that the average age of the new wave of immigrants will be 35, hence the extremely small probability that expenditures on Social Security for immigrants will grow much.
At the same time, German authorities are adopting new amendments to their migration legislation. The flow of highly skilled and educated workers still does not meet the demand of the labor market there. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the number of migrant workers coming to Germany annually is still about 25,000, despite the clear improvement in migration legislation. Back in late 2012, the Association of Bavarian Industry issued a press release stating that the demand for skilled workers in Germany cannot be met by internal labor resources alone. A report from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research confirms this information – according to their data, the country’s working population will have decreased by 10 million people by 2050, and this figure accounts for current immigrant flows.
The German Trade Union IGBAU has published its own press release about the need for new ways of protecting migrant workers. The trade union is concerned that an insufficient number of migrants from other European countries is because of the working conditions that German companies offer. Among the suggestions for improving the current immigrant situation is easing immigration legislation for non-EU citizens, including the abolition of minimum wage requirements in order to obtain a residence permit in Germany. For European Union citizens, it has been suggested to open several employment information centers that will disseminate information about working conditions in all European languages and inform migrant workers about their rights.
Text: Katalina Kochkina