By Paul Ciocoiu
A Belgian official is accusing Romanians and Bulgarians working in his country of undercutting local workers, according to reports.
John Crombez, Belgian state Secretary for Repression of Fiscal and Social Fraud, said some Bulgarians and Romanians are working for less money than normal pay rates, according to reports in De Standaard and Het Nieuwsblad on January 18th.
Belgium and eight other EU member states — Germany, Ireland, France, Luxembourg, Holland, Austria, the UK and Malta — agreed in December with the European Commission (EC) to prolong work restrictions for Romania and Bulgaria until January 2014.
Italy and the Czech Republic lifted all restrictions, while Spain initially kept its market open for the two countries’ workers, but decided last summer to restrict their access.
“The Commission has clearly asked the countries that want to keep the restrictions to also present the grounds, include in their notifications concrete data and pertinent arguments,” Michael Jennings, the EC spokesperson said.
The nine countries cited high unemployment rate to justify continued restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians.
By 2014, all EU member states must lift restrictions for the citizens of the two countries that joined the EU in 2007. A total of 16 EU member states have liberalised their work market for Romanians and Bulgarians to date.
The Romanian authorities say they regret the nine states’ decision, but the measure does not have an economic impact.
“Maintaining these restrictions cannot negatively affect the Romanian economy unless we look at it as lost opportunities, namely what Romanians could have won if they had free access to those markets,” blogger Cristian Orgonas, who runs a popular economics blog, Businessday.ro, told SETimes.
An estimated three million Romanians work abroad, mostly in Italy and Spain. In 2010, they sent about 3.8 billion euros in remittances to Romania and 4.3 billion the year before, while 2008 saw a record 6.6 billion euros in remittances.
Alin Mihalache, a carpenter, has worked in several EU countries.
“The nine countries’ decision to keep their markets closed to us comes in a time of crisis which would have made our search for a job difficult enough anyway, so I don’t really see any loss here,” he told SETimes.
In Italy, the liberalisation of the market is expected to pay off. The leaders of the Romanian community in Italy saluted the government’s decision to fully open the internal work market for Romanians, pointing out the benefits of such a measure.
“The decision is good news for qualified Romanians who, until now, were restricted from accessing jobs matching their professional training, such as accountants, teachers and agronomists. We hope that as, many as possible, Romanians will have access to these jobs,” Marian Mocanu, the president of the League of Romanians in Italy, told SETimes.