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Romanian and Bulgarian working restrictions lifted

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As of today, January 1 2014, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens have had labour restrictions lifted by the European Union and are now free to work in any member state. The build up to this moment has been particularly bitter in the Britain where fear, recriminations, socio-economic concerns, Conservative pandering to UKIP supporters and coalition splits have all been prominent.

The right of Romanians and Bulgarians to work and claim benefits in some member states was restricted for seven years when the two countries joined the EU in 2007 – a period that has now expired. Fear of mass immigration have since rocketed across many of the wealthier states, not least because of lean economic times and the consequent growth of right wing populism.

The Conservatives have controversially announced a change to benefit rules to ensure that migrants cannot claim unemployment benefit for three months after arriving and will only qualify for support after six months if they have a ‘genuine chance’ of employment. This hastily trotted out policy drew fire both from the Lib Dems, and from the EU. The very legality of such a move is being questioned.

Despite a fearmongering right wing axis of press and politicians whipping up fears of ‘waves of aggressive beggars, idlers, scroungers and criminals’ there is little evidence that such a picture bears any resemblance to reality. Statistics show economic migrants as net contributors both to the British economy and to the tax take. When Polish citizens received similar rights, the UK underwent a housing boom as efficient, affordable labour allowed home owners to refurbish, rent and sell on properties and Eastern European immigration has generally been welcomed as a positive economic phenomenon by business leaders and economists.

A spokeswoman for the Romanian foreign ministry told the BBC that some of the media coverage in the UK had bordered on racism, and there had been an "outright campaign" against Romanians and Bulgarians.

"There isn't going to be an invasion of Romanians," Brandusa Predescu said

Today also saw Latvia join the Euro and Greece, somewhat ironically, takes over the presidency of the EU.

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