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Romanian, Bulgarian MEPs write to EC President over “hostile statements” from UK, ask for protection of rights

Romanian and Bulgarian MEPs have written to the European Commission’s (EC) President José Manuel Barroso (in picture) asking for rights of citizens of the two countries to live and work across the EU to be upheld. The letter, sent February 1, comes in response to suggestions, particularly in the UK, that rights of free movement of Romanians and Bulgarians should be limited further when the transitional controls on the two countries expire on January 1, 2014.

The MEPs also warned that Romanians and Bulgarians were being unfairly stigmatized and treated as second class citizens.

“We believe that a wave of hostile statements since the beginning of the year aims to stigmatize these citizens as second-class Europeans who pose a threat to the social systems just because they want to exercise their basic rights to free movement and work,” the MEPs wrote, quoted by Reuters.

The right wing press in the UK, as well as anti-EU political party UKIP, have maintained what could be described as a hysterical tone over immigration from Romania and Bulgaria. Time and time again, articles have included the total combined populations of the two countries, who under EU rules will have the right to live and work anywhere in the Union, just like citizens of every other member state. “Hordes,” “waves” “invasion” and other evocative terms have appeared regularly in articles.

The UK government is yet to give an official estimate of the levels of immigration expected from Romania and Bulgaria, but predictions run from a few thousand a year up to as high as 50,000 a year. Many commentators, including in Romania, do not expect high levels of emigration to the UK. Unlike in 2004, when the UK was the only large EU economy to lift all restrictions on Polish immigrants, all member states will have to end restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians in 2014. Both Romania’s foreign minister and the Romanian ambassador to the UK have pointed out that Romania has seen much emigration already and with Italy and Spain having already lifted restrictions and deemed a large surge in emigration is unlikely.

A spokesperson for British PM David Cameron told Reuters news agency that Romanians and Bulgarians were not being targeted. “The prime minister has made his views clear about the benefits immigration can offer in terms of (attracting) the brightest and the best, and what we don’t want to do is see any abuse, but that’s not necessarily directed at any particular country or individuals,” said the PM’s spokesperson, quoted by Reuters.

Liam Lever, liam@romania-insider.com