Comment: Real solutions for real problems and getting involved at the source of the migration flow

Tractor ploughing fieldGuest writer Stuart Meikle suggests that people in the UK who wish to address the migration issue should get more involved at the source of the migration flow, helping Romanians build reasons to stay in their home country.

Last week I wrote in the about the perceptions of the people of the United Kingdom with regard to the impending free access for Romanians to the UK employment market as of January 1, 2014. As per norm, one or two people chose to suggest in their comments that it showed an inherent dislike of Romanians on the part of the author and the British people.

My objective was, however, to simply inform and, more importantly, to raise the question of what is really being done in Romania to improve the lot of the Romanian people and to give them the choice to stay in what is one of Europe’s resource-richest and beautiful countries. It is just too easy to blame the messenger and to thus avoid the real issue: how to find real solutions for what are very real problems. And these are problems I have come to know too well and which appear to be very reluctant to go away.

I have lived and worked in the Transylvanian region for most of the last dozen years. And as hard as I have tried, I do admit to myself that the results of my efforts to make a difference are pretty poor. As most readers will have guessed, I am British, and I would extend that to saying that the British have not really done all that much to improve the lives of the communities within the region in which I live. We have been active with, for example, cultural heritage and rural tourism but most initiatives have been micro-scale. The region has major economic and social problems of which we have barely scratched the surface.

Should we have done better? Well, given the vocal and unstinting support of one of the World’s most well-known people, yes, we should have done. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has been the catalyst in the UK for numerous initiatives: from supporting young entrepreneurs, to helping farming communities to originating one of the country’s most well-known food brands. Just what have we, the British working in Transylvania, really achieved with all of his many years of support? To be honest, we have not done much to help the region’s rural communities with respect to their social welfare or economic plight.

Is it actually our role as British people to get involved? Well, if we do wish to say to potential Romanian migrants to the UK that they should not exercise the rights that they have been given upon joining the European Union in 2007, we should at least look more deeply into the situation and conditions from which they are migrating. Too often it appears to be the assumption that the movement is about coming to the UK to take advantage of the UK welfare system or, at best, to take employment from the residing British. Is it, or is it because there are too few tangible opportunities at home in Romania?

As I said, Romania is one of Europe’s most resource abundant and naturally beautiful countries, so it is no great intellectual deduction to realize that the problems must lie back home within Romania. Those problems are creating the migration flow. It is only by resolving those problems at their source that the economic migration flow, with all its unfortunate consequences, can be halted. Anything else will be far more expensive and will never really resolve the issue in a sustainable and satisfactory way.

After my own personal experiences here in Romania, I sometimes wonder if it is not time to walk away and to say to myself that I do not have the skills to make a difference. But then, as many of us long-termers here are very good at saying, it takes very many years of hands-on experience at the Romanian ‘coal-face’ to begin to understand what it takes to do business in Romania. Ten years ago, I myself was told exactly that by some highly experienced Romania-hands and I took the advice on board; but even then I did not come close to understanding just how different and how difficult Romania could be.

Upon reading my articles in Agri-focus Romania, I hope a few people would conclude that I have managed to learn a few lessons about Romania and as a consequence I would be wrong to give up on the country. I do not plan to do so as I do not believe it will be easy for someone else to ‘parachute’ into Romania and to replace my hard-won knowledge. Although I expect some will think it would be straight forward enough as Romania is just like anywhere else. It is very far from it.

So what have I done? I decided to refocus and to rethink. I have long since given up on the ideological belief that many still cling to: that the free-market economic system will allocate scarce resources to resolve Romania’s rural problems through investment. It will not, as the problems are just too complex. Hence, we have to be far more pro-active in finding solutions for the economic and social issues within rural Romania. And we also need to recognize the magnitude of them. They include some of the largest socio-economic and environmental preservation issues to be found anywhere in the rural areas of the European Union. We need to recognize this and we need to find solutions of a proportional magnitude. Simply, we need serious people to create serious solutions for what are serious problems.

To conclude, so far, we have been trying to move an elephant by pricking its posterior with a pin. We need rather more than a pin and it is time to find some tools for the task that are much more substantial.

To come full circle to the migration for work issue: if those people in the UK wish to address their concerns about yet further immigration into the UK (in this case from Romania), it is time that the UK got more involved at the source of the migration flow. Barriers, however high or wide, will not stop people from seeking out opportunities to find a better life for themselves and their families. The only practical solution lies in giving them a reason to stay, to rebuild their own communities and to help them to see their homes in Romania as the place for their children and grandchildren to grow and to thrive.

To this end, I and others founded Transylvanian Community Solutions. Our objective is to find real solutions for real problems. Our aim is to create, develop and manage economic, social and environmental projects in rural Transylvania. We intend to be ambitious with our efforts; after all the issues and problems are truly elephantine in size. Our motivation comes from a belief that so far, too little has been done to generate the degree of economic activity that will allow Romania’s neglected rural communities to begin to close the gap with the rest of the EU. Whereas instead, with Romania’s minuscule percentage GDP advances, they continue to actually fall ever further behind.

Romania has to start closing the real income gap with its EU partners, otherwise the country will further haemorrhage its human resources. And its losses are already of a dramatic scale relative to its population size. If it does not halt and reverse the migration trend, its communities, rural or otherwise, stripped of both their young and their talented, will just never again be demographically sustainable. It is a downward spiral that needs significant actions to halt and we intend to take some of those actions.

By Stuart Meikle, Guest Writer

Stuart Meikle is an agricultural management consultant. He was a University of London academic and is an economist, a writer and a farmer. He has been involved within Romanian agriculture as an adviser, as an executive manager and as an observer for 15 years. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Romania

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