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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Perfidious Albion again?

Glorious sun yesterday in Sofia with pavement cafes full of people tasting an early spring day as I emerged from the Rodina Hotel after some swimming and exercise.
Although the English newspapers seemed to have moved on to other topics, feelings are still very high in this part of the world about the latest example of perfidious Albion – threatened restrictions on the free movement of labour from January 2014. Britain was, after all, one of the governments pushing for early entry of Bulgaria and Romania ten years ago (and indeed was one of only three EU members to allow open access after 2004 to citizens of the 7 new member states who joined then).
The accusation of inconsistency misses a crucial point – that it was a Labour Government (1997 to 2010) which did these things. The Cameron government which is now in charge is a government of upper-class ideologues who want to go one better than Thatcher in the breaking of the old “social contract” which the UK benefited from the end of the second-world war to about 1980. Further marketization, attack on welfare benefits are the basic strategy – although they were not mentioned in the respective manifestoes of the coalition partners. Of course open immigration fits such a neo-liberal approach - but loses the votes necessary to pursue such policies. Immigration has been a major issue in British (or at least English) politics for the past 50 years – and some of the reasons are set out in the fascinating diagram which shows thevarious waves of immigration to Britain in the last couple of centuries – particularly those of the last 60 or so years. Although an English politician did in the 1960s make an infamous speech warning of “rivers flowing with blood” if the immigration (of West Indians then) continued, the UK had, until the early 1980s, a net negative flow of migration. More people were leaving than coming in.
This all changed 30 years ago – due to a new flow of Asian immigrants many of whom do not easily integrate. When 7 central European countries joined the European Union in 2004, the UK was one of only 3 countries (the others being Ireland and Sweden) to allow unrestricted entry on to the labour market for the citizens of those 7 countries. The government advisers had anticipated only a small flow – but grossly underestimated the scale. That’s why 3 years later, the government took a more restrictive approach to Bulgaria and Romania – for a period which runs out in January next year.        

England has actually benefitted from the professionals and students who have come to England – it is actually Bulgaria and Romania who have suffered from the loss of highly-skilled doctors and young people. The real fear is, of course, that the 2014 relaxation will first bring in the gypsies – who have been the bane of France and Germany (German cities have become very concerned about the scale and effects of such immigration) - after which, the British Conservatives fear, they will lose votes (in England) to the nationalist UKIP and thereby the next General Election in 2015. Pity that the Conservatives are so insular that they did not think of cooperating with the French, Germans (and Italians) to explore ways of dealing with immigrants who harass and steal from the public. My understanding is that deportation (as France found out) is a difficult option legally.

That world citizen Tony Blair actually turned up in the Romanian parliament in May 1999 and promised  them that the gates of Europe would be flung open for them if they would help NATO in its confrontation with the Serbian ruler Milosevic over his ill-treatment of his Albanian subjects in Kosovo.
Not only did they comply, but they made huge economic sacrifices to prepare Romania for full membership of the EU in 2007. Britain was their chief sponsor and the 20 million Romanians were regularly told that their living standards would start to approach the EU norms if they swallowed the harsh medicine. Instead, it will take centuries for this to occur. They privatised their industry, abandoned their price subsidies and allowed massive economic dumping by powerful EU states only to find that they cannot make ends meet at home with derisory salaries.  Their sleazy political elite allied to the British Liberals and Labour have been the only real local beneficiaries of membership. 
The satirical poster is one of Franz Juttner's - "The British sing hymns - but think of war"

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