Romania’s prime minister has told Britain not to treat Romanians as ‘second-rate citizens’ when curbs on Romanian and Bulgarian workers are lifted on January 1.
Victor Ponta said last night that research showed no evidence that there would be large numbers of migrants moving from his country to the UK, despite mounting fears.
And he reiterated the claim, made elsewhere, that Romanians were more likely to seek work in southern European states like Italy and Spain, where the language is far more similar to Romanian.
David Cameron this week announced measures to toughen welfare rules for migrants from the European Union amid concern that migrants from Romania and Bulgaria would exploit the benefits system.
He has claimed that one million people from Central and East Europe are living in Britain with migration at a level not seen since wartime.
But, in a statement released last night, Mr Ponta slammed the move. He said people should be punished for abusing the welfare system, but restrictions should not be used to ‘generate or justify abuse or discrimination’.
‘We will not accept being treated as second-rate citizens,’ Mr Ponta said, adding that research showed ‘there is no reason for concern regarding a migrant wave’ from Romania to Britain.
Millions of Romanians had already chosen to work abroad in ‘southern Latin states’, referring to Spain and Italy which have a Latin-based language like Romanian.
He said he hoped Cameron was not trying ‘to attack the fundamental principles of the EU, among which the freedom of movement is one of the most important values’.
Mr Cameron’s benefits proposals were criticised on Wednesday by European employment commissioner Laszlo Andor as an ‘unfortunate over-reaction’.
Warning that Britain risked becoming the ‘nasty country of Europe,’ he said plans to curb benefits for migrants were fuelling ‘hysteria’ and accused the PM of distorting the truth about immigration.
‘The point is that the British have not been given all the truth and the full truth about this subject,’ Mr Andor told Radio 4’s Today programme.
Brussels is facing a growing revolt over its no-borders immigration policy, with France and Germany also suggesting they want curbs on EU migrants’ rights.
Mr Cameron, who has been criticised for refusing to give an estimate of how many Romanians and Bulgarians will come to Britain next year, has outlined plans to limit the rights of temporary workers to housing benefit, and a 12-month bar on those fund begging and sleeping rough.
The measures were announced shortly after the Daily Mail published the results of a poll which suggests that four in five Britons do not want unrestricted access to the UK for Romanians and Bulgarians.
Home Secretary Theresa May this week suggested moves to cap the number of EU migrants to the UK in order to stop British workers languishing on the dole.
Writing for the PoliticsHome website, Mrs May suggested that the Government’s attempts to make the UK a less attractive destination–by restricting access to welfare and introducing an annual levy for use of the NHS–were likely to have limited effect.
‘In all honesty, whatever the Government does in terms of reducing the pull factors that draw people to Britain, as long as there is such an enormous disparity between EU member states in terms of income per head, there will be an overwhelming incentive for people to move from poorer member states to richer member states,’ she said.
Mrs May added: ‘That not only puts pressure on communities in countries like Britain, it robs poorer EU member states of their most talented people. So in future, we must put in place new arrangements to slow full access to each other’s labour markets until we can be sure it will not lead to mass migration.’