Having admitted eight former Stalinist states in central and Eastern Europe, as well as Malta and Cyprus, to enlarge to 25 countries in 2004, the EU will admit Romania and Bulgaria in January 2007. However, Romanian and Bulgarian workers will be denied the right to migrate to Britain, with New Labour ministers arguing for “managed migration” and “gradual access”, which could mean controls for up to seven years.
Whether this makes sense from the point of view of pure capitalist rationality is debatable. After all, Romania and Bulgaria could provide an even more lucrative pool of cheap labour than Poland has over the last two years. Moreover, any large numbers of workers from these countries trying to move to Britain is unlikely, both because of the distance involved and because linguistic and cultural factors mean that, for instance, Romanian workers are more likely to seek work in Southern Europe.
New Labour is responding, as always, to pressure from the Tories and the right-wing press to show that it is “tough” on immigration, and particularly, at the moment, immigration from Eastern Europe.
Whatever disagreements exist on this issue within the British ruling aclass, the necessary working-class response is clear. We support freedom of movement across the EU and across the world, and oppose any attempt to restrict Romanian and Bulgarian workers’ ability to enter Britain. Anything is not just a betrayal of human rights: it means accepting that some workers in Britain are “illegal” and should not be here. The building of an effective European-wide working-class movement cannot proceed on this basis.
Romania and Bulgaria’s per capita GDP’s are both less than £8,000 a year, compared to the EU average of £23,000. A socialist programme for Europe obviously requires massive redistribution of wealth between countries and regions, funded at the expense of the rich, to level up living standards across the continent. But that programme cannot be counterposed to the right of workers to come to live and work in Britain now if they want to.
The EU’s expansion is part of the process of a single European capitalist market, with more and more national ruling classes welcomed into the “bosses’ club”. As the Romanian and Bulgarian capitalists are welcomed by our bosses, our labour movement must welcome their workers and organise them to fight back.