19 February 13

Conference Criticises “Discriminatory” EU Labour Curbs

Speakers at a conference in Bucharest have attacked temporary restrictions that prevent Romanian and Bulgarian citizens from working freely in several EU countries.

The curbs are due to remain in place until their maximum legal limit expires at the end of 2013 – seven years after the two so-called “A2 countries” joined the bloc.

“Seven years no longer mean restrictions, they no longer mean differentiation – they mean discrimination,” said Vasile Puşcaş, Romania’s chief-negotiator with the EU in 2000-04.

Romanian MEP Renate Weber told the conference, organised under the auspices of the Balkan Fellowship of Journalistic Excellence, that her country had expected the curbs to be lifted sooner.

“When we joined the EU, we agreed to these long-term restrictions, hoping they would be lifted long before the deadline,” she said.

She argued that this would have been logical as European Commission studies had “demonstrated the benefits [to other EU economies] of the Romanian and Bulgarian labour force”.

However, she said, the restrictions had become an “electoral weapon” in the domestic politics of the countries that had imposed them.

Several EU nations – including the UK, Germany and France – have enforced laws that aim to restrict Romanian and Bulgarian migrants to specific sectors of their labour markets. Under EU rules, any such curbs must be lifted by the end of 2013.

The looming deadline has prompted speculation in the media that some governments may look for ways to extend the curbs.

However, speakers at the conference said any talk of prolonging the restrictions was misinformed.

Luminita Odobescu, a senior official from the Romanian Prime Minister’s Chancellery, said her government was confident that its European partners would lift the curbs in January 2014, in accordance with the EU accession treaty.

Weber added that Romania would challenge any member state that “invented reasons or statistics” to extend the restrictions on A2 citizens’ right to work in the EU.

The conference, held on February 13 at Bucharest’s Novotel Hotel, looked at the effects of the curbs on A2 workers as they entered their seventh year. Participants in the debate included Romanian government officials, academics, foreign diplomats and trade union officials.

The conference was prompted by an investigation by reporter Sorana Stanescu that showed how labour curbs have left Romanian builders vulnerable to exploitation in the UK. The investigation argued that the restrictions were in some respects counter-productive, harming indigenous workers by driving down wages and safety standards, as well as depriving the British economy of tax revenue. Stanescu’s report was produced as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, an annual bursary for investigative and long-form journalism.

Governments in the UK and elsewhere argue that the labour curbs have protected the domestic workforce and restricted immigration from eastern Europe.

However, speakers at the conference questioned if the restrictions had been effective.

Sean Bamford, a migration expert with the UK’s Trade Unions Congress, said there was “no evidence that Romanians and Bulgarians have threatened the jobs of British nationals”.

“They have however left Romanian and Bulgarians open to extreme forms of exploitation.”

Bamford said the British workforce’s problems were caused by “casino capitalism” and the failure of government regulation, rather than by migration from eastern Europe.

Dumitru Costin, the president of the Romanian National Union Block, said the labour restrictions had benefitted “employers, some employment agencies, lawyers, insurance companies… and last, but not least, those politicians who lack solutions and vision”.

Sociologist Dumitru Sandu said most Romanians in future would choose to migrate to Germany, rather than the UK, because its economy was stronger.

Background information

The Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence was established in 2007 by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation, in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), to promote incisive, cross-border reporting. The first prize-winner of the 2012 edition was Romanian journalist Sorana Stănescu, for her investigation: “Cheap, and Far from Free: The Migrants Building Britain”.

http://fellowship.birn.eu.com/en/fellowship-programme/cheap-and-far-from-free-the-migrants-building-britain.

Fill out my online form.

Latest News and Events

birn-summer-school-day-4-scaling-up-investigations

BIRN Summer School Day 4: Scaling Up Investigations

On the fourth day of BIRN’s Summer School, trainers advised the journalists on how to pitch stories, structure investigative projects and use technology to assist their work.

birn-summer-school-day-3-interviewing-techniques-and-sourcing

BIRN Summer School Day 3: Interviewing Techniques and Sourcing

On the third day of BIRN’s Summer School, journalists heard how to harness the power of social media, carry out interviews and develop sources for stories.

birn-summer-school-day-2-social-media-for-investigators

BIRN Summer School Day 2: Social Media for Investigators

On the second day of BIRN’s Summer School, journalists learned how to creatively structure stories and use various databases and other investigative tools.

seventh-birn-summer-school-begins-in-bosnia

Seventh BIRN Summer School Begins in Bosnia

BIRN’s latest Summer School kicked off on Monday with interactive sessions on data journalism and fact-checking.

birn-bih-presented-three-stories-at-the-22nd-sff

BIRN Presents War Stories at Sarajevo Film Fest

The first ‘True Stories Market’ aimed at film and TV professionals at the Sarajevo Film Festival included three stories from BIRN relating to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s wartime past.

birn-bosnia-becomes-sarajevo-film-festival-partner

BIRN Bosnia Becomes Sarajevo Film Festival Partner

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH) will participate as a partner in the “Facing the Past” at this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival.

birn-bih-joins-european-integration-monitoring-initiative

BIRN BiH Joins European Integration Monitoring Initiative

The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH) has joined the Initiative for Monitoring the European Integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is intended to help develop the democratic process and the rule of law. 

birn-kosovo-publishes-report-on-women-s-property-rights

BIRN Kosovo publishes report on women’s property rights

BIRN Kosovo published an analysis on Thursday, July 28, of women’s property rights in Kosovo in order to present a picture of the major problems around a woman’s right to inherit property.

transitional-justice-training-for-journalists

Transitional Justice Training for Journalists

BIRN’s Balkan Transitional Justice Programme is organising a two-day training session for 20 journalists from the region on 22 and 23 September in Sarajevo.

serbian-ruling-party-exhibits-media-lies

Serbian Ruling Party Exhibits 'Media Lies'

Serbia's ruling Progressive Party (SNS) organized an unusual exhibition of negative press articles to back its claim that there is no official censorship in Serbia.