Statewatch article: RefNo# 25918
News in Brief; European Roma Information Office (ERIO) Condemns anti-Roma media campaign in the UK in wake of EU enlargement
Statewatch News Online, February 2004
Flooding the British labour market, plundering the social system, diffusing illicit drugs and fostering crime. With these headlines British tabloids have relaunched a racist-led media campaign against Roma. The timing is significant. The media campaign occurs just a few months before the entry of several eastern and central European countries – some of which contain large Romani populations – into the EU. The campaign was kick-started by ‘The Economist’ on January 15th when it ran an article on the likely impact of East Enlargement on immigration. Despite its sensational title, “The coming hordes”, ‘The Economist’ tempered fears that a new migratory movement from Eastern Europe could lead to a deterioration of the living conditions in the West. It concluded that the new immigrants from Eastern Europe “will still be valuable economically, because they are likely to contribute more in work than they take out in pay” and, in order “to make the best use” of the east-west migration, suggested to exclude short-term residents from social benefits.

“The Economist” already singled out East European Roma, which have then become the target of an overtly racist campaign in the tabloids. Accordingly, “the bigger worry for the rich-country governments concerns migrants in search for state benefits.” For those hard to understand it further explained: “Central Europe’s Roma minorities … are a particular case for concern.” The magazine refrained from suggesting concrete measures on how Romani people from Eastern Europe could be prevented from taking advantage of the British social system, but mentioned the former introduction of a visa regime with Slovakia as a positive example for tackling with immigration flows. In doing so, it made clear that it would be a good thing to keep the East European Roma out of the UK.

Not to be outdone, the British yellow press quickly jumped on the bandwagon. On January 18th, the Sunday Times announced that hundred thousands of East European Roma would only wait the day of Enlargement to move westwards. One later, ‘The Sun’ saw “tens of thousands of gipsies … poised to flock to Britain”. A day later, in the ‘Daily Express’, they had grown to 1,6 million “ready to flood in”. To give further credit to its argument, the ‘Express’ displayed a map of Europe with red arrows departing from the future new member states and ending in Great Britain. The arrows served to illustrate “the hordes of Gypsies” ready to assault the British islands.

Parts of the British press obviously seek to capitalise the strong popular scepticism over Eastwards enlargement. British support for the Enlargement is one of the lowest in the EU. Moreover they also play on deeply rooted anti-Roma prejudices and resentments. In Internet chat rooms users reacted with statements such as “we should now close our borders, enough is enough.” A Conservative MP from South East Cambridgeshire tabled a parliamentary question to the Deputy PM John Prescott where he expressed concern that his county might be “overwhelmed” by thousands of Roma.

The media reports fail to base their arguments on solid evidence: Even after 1 May, citizens from the new member states will not be able to move freely within the EU. The accession treaty foresees a transition period of seven years during which the old EU member states may keep their labour market closed for the new entrants. Several countries, such as Germany, Spain, France and Italy, have already announced that they will make use of these provisions. The Netherlands has stated that it intends to impose immigration quota for workers from the new member states.

Even though the British government has decided not to impose any restrictions on the labour immigration from new EU states, it is very unlikely that immigration from eastern Europe will have a significant impact on the British labour market. Indeed, there is ample scientific evidence which demonstrates that the propensity to move westwards is much

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