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Dutch Migration Fears Mirror Sentiments Across Europe

NPR icon by Krishnadev Calamur
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Thierry Charlier

The Netherlands is a famously tolerant and welcoming place. But the Dutch social affairs minister says he's worried about too many immigrants coming from Bulgaria and Romania and he's tapped into wider fears in the European Union about foreign workers.

"In the Netherlands, an 'orange alert' is issued when the country's rivers rise to alarming levels," Lodewijk Asscher, a center-left politician, wrote in the Independent with David Goodhart, the founder of Demos, a British think tank. "The time has come to issue another kind of orange alert – one that warns about some of the negative consequences of the free movement of workers within the European Union."

The debate comes as the Netherlands is still struggline to recover from the global economic crisis.

The last labor restrictions across the EU will be lifted on Jan. 1, and that means workers from Bulgaria and Romania, like those in other EU countries, will be able to seek work freely. The bloc's older members fear an influx of Bulgarian and Romanian workers who will depress wages.

The Financial Times notes, "The numbers of eastern Europeans in the Netherlands have indeed grown rapidly since EU expansion. Since 2005, the official Polish-born population in this country of 17 million has more than doubled to 110,000, while the Bulgarian and Romanian communities have quadrupled to a combined 30,000." The paper adds that unofficial residents may add another 50 percent to those numbers.

The Netherlands isn't alone in its fears of foreign workers. Here's a look at the debate in other EU countries and beyond:

Britain

The U.K. fears of an influx from the two countries prompted the U.K. government to consider launching a negative ad campaign in Bulgaria and Romania. Its aim, the Guardian reported: "Please don't come to Britain – it rains and the jobs are scarce and low-paid."

Some of those fears come from the migration into Britain since the last EU expansion in 2004 and from Asian and African countries. Figures released Thursday showed that though the number entering Britain dropped from last year, the number was still close to half-million.

The prospect of cheap labor flooding the U.K., which has emerged unsteadily from the recession, have led to headlines like: "100 Romanians and Bulgarians take a job in Britain every day, official figures show."

Estimates of just how many Bulgarians and Romanians will come to Britain range from as few as 20,000 to as many as 50,000.

France

During the last EU expansion, France feared an influx of "Polish plumbers" who would depress wages. But immigration – especially from North Africa – continues to dominate French politics.

In a recent report, the France 24 television channel said that Interior Minister Manuel Valls had "sowed discord" with controversial comments about the country's immigration policy and its large Muslim population.

"During a closed-door ministerial meeting on Monday, Valls, who is in charge of French police, suggested that in 10 years France's immigration system would need fundamental reforms to tackle the influx of foreigners, especially from Africa.

"In particular, he questioned whether the country would be able to maintain its policy of regrouping family members of immigrants who obtain legal residency.

"Later in the meeting, he was quoted as saying it would be up to France to prove that Islam was compatible with democracy."

Despite those comments, the government introduced new steps this week to make French citizenship more accessible.

Germany

Europe's largest economy survived the continent's recession with relatively little damage, but has failed to attract skilled labor from other countries. Here's more from Deutsche Welle:

"Christina Ramb from Germany's Federal Employers' Federation (BDA) estimates that Germany will lack 4 million skilled workers by 2030. There is already a shortage of doctors and care workers for the elderly as well as engineers and IT specialists."

With southern Europe's economies roiled by the recession, many Spaniards and Greeks looked to Germany for jobs. The Washington Post reported late in 2012 about the lives of some of these new migrants:

"Many ordinary Germans view their new neighbors with caution. A recent local television show about some of the Spanish engineers was called Dr. Guest Worker, a reference to a 1960s program that brought Turkish manual laborers to Germany without granting citizenship to them or their children. The Turkish workers never returned home, but many Germans never welcomed them, creating an underclass with fewer rights and fostering resentments that persist to this day."

Germany has for years had an uneasy relationship with its Turkish minority. Two years ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in on the controversy, saying that Germany's attempts to create a multicultural society had "utterly failed."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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