Bulgaria’s former foreign affairs minister has criticised the “mass hysteria” surrounding the immigration debate driven by the “far right”.
Nikolay Mladenov, who was Bulgaria’s foreign affairs minister until last spring, said claims of a sudden influx of Bulgarians and Romanians to Britain were “politically motivated”.
Mr Mladenov, who is now the UN special representative to Iraq, said that the media had done well to try to set right such suggestions, saying they “show that this whole mass hysteria, which has been fanned out by some media outlets in the UK, has been purely politically motivated and that there is no reason to believe that the UK will be swarmed by waves of immigrants from Bulgaria”.
Mr Mladenov said the free movement of citizens had reciprocal benefits for both host country and guest resident.
“A number of people, yes, have moved, and they contribute to the development of your economy, just as much as a number of Britons have found Bulgaria as a base to settle down and they contribute to our economy,” he said.
He added: “Most countries have benefited from open borders and from trade and from development in the European Union, so I don’t think we should be searing of that.”
Last month, Bulgarian president Rosen Plevneliev attacked David Cameron for “pandering to nationalist” over the issue.
Meanwhile, Romania’s ambassador to the UK, Dr Ion Jinga, earlier this week expressed his sadness over anti-Romanian sentiment ahead of the lifting of the working restrictions on 1 January.
“All evidence suggests that Britain is not a preferred destination for Romanian migration. Indeed, the majority of Romanians who have decided to work abroad have chosen countries with closer linguistic and cultural links, like Spain, Italy or France, and currently there is no evidence that they would intend to move to the UK,” he said.
Fears that hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans would enter the UK when immigration restrictions were lifted on January 1 have dominated the headlines recently, although to date no such surge has occurred.
The quarantine period that prevented Bulgarians and Romanians from targeting UK jobs, as well as people from eight other EU countries, ended on New Year’s Day, seven years after the two countries achieved full EU membership. But Laszlo Andor, the EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, said there were already three million people from Bulgaria and Romania living in other European Union member states.
“It is unlikely that there will be any major increase following the ending of the final restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian workers,” he said.
Immigration levels on a par with the number of arrivals experienced by the UK in 2004, when Poland joined the EU, also seem unlikely.
The UK has also put in place a new three-month minimum waiting time before these new arrivals are able to claim out-of-work benefits.