I snuck along with my new husband, Gavin, who was speaking about his book just launched “Frontier: Exploring the Top Ten Emerging Markets of Tomorrow,” which includes Romania among ten go-go places for the coming decade.
Apart from the wonderful Latin weather and feel of the place combined with great Slavic-come-Turkish culture and cuisine, it was fascinating just sitting and talking with people.
In a language sounding more like Spanish or Italian but with a tone and demeanour definitively from the east, the young talked of the hardship of finding paid work. While unemployment is officially close to the lowest in Europe, the true picture seems quite different. Many simply don’t figure in the unemployment total. Dole payments are so low, they don’t bother signing on.
Instead, out-of-work Romanians head overseas. Given the language similarities, Spain was a popular first port of call – until the financial crisis there dried up the job offers. Germany, Norway and Britain are among the more popular destinations now.
That feeds the immigration concerns that dominated our election. The issue will stay in the spotlight as we head for a referendum on European Union membership.
And there we have the choice – our choice. We can’t have it both ways. Economic integration has given us 60 years without wars within the European Union member countries. You only need to look to the fringes of the EU – to Ukraine, to Islamic State on the edge of Turkey – to appreciate this gift to our generation. The way this has been achieved is having a mutual interest in each others’ success – to defend each other and promote peace.
There’s no denying this has a cost. But while we fear losing jobs and benefit payments to immigrants, Romanians fear rich Brits recruiting all of their best doctors and nurses, and buying up their farmland for development.
And then there’s the opportunity. Romania has the lowest wages among major EU nations. That’s a chance for UK companies to expand production with reduced costs. Romania also has a growing consumer market for food, clothes, gadgets. That’s a chance for British retail outlets.
The amount of British companies taking advantage of that opportunity has so far been disappointing. While the Netherlands has provided more than a fifth of foreign direct investment in Romania, Britain’s contribution is less than 2 percent. We trail behind little Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria and the Czech Republic.
Rather than obsessing about the costs of European integration, the government should focus on seizing that opportunity for British business to grow in Europe. The EU should mean more jobs for everyone – and less money spent on unemployment handouts. To read more on Romania: www.frontierfunds.org
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