The Eurolines bus from Romania was waiting to cross the Austrian border one sunny day in autumn 2003. Some of us were Erasmus students heading for university studies or research in France, but the rest of the people were workers heading for Austria or Germany restaurants and hotels. The bus had been waiting at the Hungarian-Austrian border from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. in the evening. Then at some point later, our bus was actually in line for visas and passport check. It was already dark and most of the travelers were asleep when an Austrian customs officer loudly ordered everyone out of the bus.
After a yelled Achtung! and a harrowing day’s waiting on a bus, we were ordered to line in front of the customs desk and present our ID’s. Only female travelers were asked to indicate the reasons for entering Austria and all answers were met with a look of sarcastical contempt as if we were all going to work in a brothel. There was no contempt distinction made between students, workers or tourists. Equal citizenship, equal treatment. We were Eastern Europeans lined up as others were lined up more than half a century ago and probably considered new EU beggars or brothel fresh meat.
That was back in 2003 when Schengen borders were flanked by Austria. Germany’s Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich has declared in an interview released today that Germany would use its veto if Romania and Bulgaria are still insisting in joining the Schengen area. Fear of low-skilled immigrants influx would be the backbone of such a position. “Should Romania and Bulgaria insist upon a vote [at the meeting], then the proposal will fail by virtue of a German veto,” Friedrich told Spiegel. ” Even the possibility of partial approval – for arrival by air, or seaports – is off the table.”
To be fair, Germany is not opposed to immigration, in fact the country needs an estimated 400,000 immigrants to stabilize the emigration and aging trends. The Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen declared in an interview that “The new quality of immigration is a godsend. It helps our country, making it younger, more creative and more international. Everyone benefits. The young people benefit, because they are able to get started in their careers, and so does our society, because professionals are filling open positions.”
However, as a competitive economy needs high skilled workers, Germany fears that the present-day situation with Eastern Europeans might worsen. Romanians and Bulgarians are making the headlines in Germany and other countries in what is called “poverty migration” waves that lack education, job prospects and are in need of social benefits.
The fact is that Romania does provide very high skilled workers and researchers however the problem is that Romanian Government authorities have never dealt efficiently with the low-skilled emigrants that have sought their fate in Western EU particularly in France, Italy and Spain, but also in Germany or UK. And those low-skilled immigrants have built a negative reputation that very much affects Romania’s own elite workers in search of better prospects.
As far as 2010, the Romanian President was encouraging his own people to leave the country if austerity measures were too much for them including doctors, teachers and so on. President Basescu was then also thanking immigrants in Western Europe for enjoying unemployment benefits in other countries than from Romania’s own social benefits fund.
It should not come as a surprise that Romania gets vetoed in the Schengen issue. It is not a question of Europe vetoing Eastern Europeans, it is a question that very much pertains to the way in which the Romanian Government has dealt with his own citizens during the last years, be it high or low-skilled.
Romania has never been short, not even today, of failed governments and failed external reputation thanks to our own locally-grown selfish political class.