Back after Christmas now. A good break, but back to the grind stone tomorrow. Weather played havoc with my plans for mountain climbing, but you have to expect that this time of year. Had a few interesting presents. e.g. I got this book called William Shakespeare Star Wars which is basically the star wars script edited with a Shakespeare-esque tone is thou a lightsaber I seeith before me 🙂 Very amusing!
Anyway, not so amusing was the constant headlines I noted in the UK tabloids that suggested that on January the 1st wed be overrun by hordes of Romanians and Bulgarians over here to live on our generous benefits system…perhaps forgetting that theyd have to pass through Germany and France (both of whose benefits systems pay out considerably more than the UKs) to get here. Then theyd steal all our jobs, and presumably commit terrorism and butcher horsemeat in their spare time. :crazy:
The government responded with increasingly insane ideas, such as charging people for using the NHS. So youve got an unconscious man in A&E and youre going to start asking for a credit card first, hows that going to work out? How long before a tragedy like the one I reported on before Christmas occurs? :no:
Also what will be the response of health authorities throughout Europe? Currently UK citizens receive free or heavily subsidised treatment costs if you fall ill within the EEA thanks to the EHIC system, which is based on the fact the UK provides reciprocal healthcare rights to other EU citizens. Now that the UK appears to be reneging on this commitment, whats to stop, say Spain charging all the UK pensioners living in Marbella for the full costs of their medical care? Or Germany to start demanding UK citizens pay for A&E treatment? To say this policy is stupid and its implications have not been properly thought through is to put it mildly.
Im expecting next that theyll have IDS and his welfare chain gangs out to beat up new immigrants and scream go home at them at Heathrow. As it happens yesterday there were more MPs and journalists at Heathrow than Romanian immigrants.
Personally, Im not that worried (at least about the migrants, the NHS policy change has me very worried). Ireland went through a similar phase where many Romanians, notably gypsies somehow decided that Ireland was a good place to go (we didnt apply the same controls as Britain when Romania joined the EU), because we have our own indigenous gypsy population, good benefits system (which again pays out more than the UK), plenty of jobs with a high minimum wage.
Well that trend petered out once they realised why the Irish benefits system pays out so generously and why the minimum wage is so much higher because Ireland is (or at least was) a ridiculously expensive place to live!
I recall some slight amusement seeing a Polish guy in a university canteen (i.e. subsidised food prices) discovering that a chicken and chips wt coke was going to cost him 6.50 euros (double that if he went outside to an unsubsidized restaurant) about 3 times the price of the same in Poland 88| (at a non-subsidised price!). A pint in Ireland will still cost you the best part of 4-5 euro, more like 6 euro in temple bar vs about 1.5 to 2 euro in Eastern Europe. Yes, if you’re a fan of the black stuff, you’d probably get it cheaper in Bucharest than in Dublin!
Then there was a story at one point during the boom, of a clan of gypsies living in the middle of a roundabout near Dublin airport. They only got as far as there, because when they tried to get into town they couldnt afford to get a taxi (getting a taxi from Dublin airport is notoriously expensive), and realising their error in coming to Ireland decided to camp out at the airport until they could figure out how to get back home. The Irish government eventually helped them out with a free one way ticket home to move them on.
I suspect the same thing will happen the first time these new Bulgarian and Romanians go to buy a rail ticket and realise how ridiculously expensive rail travel is in the UK ( when I was last in East Europe I was paying about 4-10p per mile, while its 85-40p/mi here in the UK!). They might even what to change the ticketing machines menu to include an option allowing one to buy a return plane ticket back to Romania after you realise that this would be cheaper than a single train fare to Manchester! ;D
The Streisand effect
That said, despite what Ive said I expect we will see some influx of immigrants from these regions. Some, like the Polish before them, will be looking to work here for a few years before returning home (although inevitably some will put down roots and stay). There will probably be some who will come for benefits tourism, something I will put down to the so-called Streisand effect whereby the Tories/Tabloids efforts to highlight the issue and scare away perspective immigrants will instead have been reported on Bulgarian and Romanian television (as it was mentioned over Christmas in the Irish media) and many who otherwise wont have come to the UK, will now do so!
Certainly, one cannot deny that certain parts of Europe, notably rural areas of Eastern Europe, have not benefited from EU membership as well as say the middle classes in Bucharest or Sofia. Hence its probably not surprising that some feel compelled to immigrate. To me the solution here isn’t draconian controls on the UK’s borders, but lobbying within the EU for the sort of structural funds to be applied via the EU to ensure more even economic growth within Eastern European countries.
Least we forget, Ireland was hardly the wealthiest place in the EU once upon a time. We used to joke about being a small drinking country with a farming problem ;D. Or that we raised cattle for export…same as the children! :)) Now our GNI/per capita & GDP/per capita exceeds the UK’s even despite the recent downturn. There is no reason why the same thing can’t work elsewhere.
And again this ulitmately highlights why, even if you’re against inward migration into the UK its still better to be a member of the EU than not.