On Bulgaria and Romania

First of all, let's make something clear. The Irish Government's decision to deny Bulgarians and Romanians the right to work here was not necessary to preserve our common travel area with Britain. From 1 January, Romanians and Bulgarians will have the right to travel freely throughout the EU, a consequence of their status as EU citizens. Their labour market status has nothing to do with this. Sweden, as a signatory to the Schengen Agreement, shares a common travel area with nearly every other country in the EEA and that didn't prevent them granting employment rights to the accession states in 2004, nor will it keep Finland and Slovakia from opening their labour markets to the 2007 states. It's a complete red herring and I suspect deliberate disingenuity on the part of some of those propagating it.

Now then. It's reported today in the Sindo (free registration required) that the decision was in fact motivated by fears of a "growing black market" in Ireland. If true, and given the source the odds are only about even, it demonstrates a Government thinking that borders on the moronic. Denying employment rights to people that you cannot deny entrance to - yes, that's the way to put a stop to the black market all right. Jesus. How much do we pay these people to decide public policy for us?

While first year logic ought to tell you that such a move will most likely encourage rather than discourage the underground economy, there's evidence for this as well. The European Commission released two reports this year which examined the effects of the transitional arrangements imposed by most EU countries in 2004. Sure enough, the black economy increased in those countries as did the number of low-skilled migrants, while Ireland, Britain and Sweden got most of the migrants at the higher end of the skills spectrum. Ireland and Britain more so than Sweden, which suggests that our increase was influenced by factors other than the lack of labour restrictions here, language and the availability of jobs in key sectors being identified as the two most important. The implication of all this is that Ireland and Britain will continue to be disproportionately attractive compared to other countries with similar labour laws - only now the migrants we'll be competing for will be those who aren't skilled enough to get legitimate work.

It's a recipe for trouble.

The issue that underlies all of this is one that migration analysts have long known but that xenophobes and governments continue against all reason to try to deny: immigration happens. It happens whether the receiving countries want it or not and it happens in spite of all their attempts to limit it. The Irish of all people ought to know this. Legal barriers do have some deterrent effect, but they also have the inevitable consequence of encouraging irregular migration. Indeed, the recent NESC reports on migration theorised that the relative lack of an underground economy in Ireland, compared to Britain and the US, is due in significant part to the relatively open work permit system that existed in this country up until a few years ago. And see where that Sindo article comments on the "growing black market" in Ireland? Is it any coincidence that that growth has occurred since the work permit requirements were tightened? Of course it isn't (and nor is it coincidental that human trafficking to Ireland has increased over the same period, but that's a subject for another day).

Now I'm not saying that there isn't a need for restrictions of some kind. Although I'm ideologically in favour of open borders, based upon my strong belief in the fundamental right of workers to control their own labour, as a practical matter I recognise the impossibility of Ireland or any other country making such a move unilaterally. But the point here is that the borders will be open anyway to migrants from Bulgaria and Romania. The reason that border controls are so strict for nationals of third world and Eastern European countries is precisely because governments know that the only way to keep those people from working here is by preventing them coming here in the first place and once they've achieved the right to unrestricted entry, as is guaranteed to all EU citizens, that's most of the battle lost. If the European nations are genuinely committed to the right to free movement of persons, they must acknowledge that the movement of labour goes hand in hand with it, and it's of no benefit to anyone to pretend the two can be separated by silly transitional arrangements.

1 comment:

Big K said...

The ROI is a state obsessed with isolationism. Unless someone in the ROI can prove that their great grandaddy was digging turf in Connemara, they are foreign and looked upon as invaders. Admittedly, this is not so much the case within the Pale, but lets face it, the Pale is merely west London. Until the "Oirish" stop having wet dreams about the purity of their quasi-aryan race ROI will retain its reputation as hospitible to tourists and hostile to immigrants. Immigrants from the Balkans and other former Communist states are a valuable part of the ROI (and UK) economy, and until the racists in Westminster and Dail Eireann accept this they cannot be surprised to be considered "enemies of islam", etc

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