The European Union needs to make a priority of combat excesses in the free movement of people, Dutch social affairs minister Lodewijk Asscher says in an article in Saturday’s Volkskrant.
The resettlement of so many people from eastern Europe in the west has had a ‘disruptive effect on some of our poorer and less well educated citizens in the richer EU states like the UK and the Netherlands,’ the article, written together with British commentator David Goodhart, states.
‘They are competing against people with much lower wage expectations who are not used to the options that a welfare state offers our workers.’
The article sounds a ‘code orange’ alert for the European labour market. ‘Even when the system is not being overtly abused there is some displacement and competition that is considered unfair, especially when unemployment is high,’ the article says.
‘Some of our weakest citizens are losing out in the labour market to better equipped outsiders. It is important to think about how we can protect the labour market situation of these vulnerable groups in a way that does not violate the principle of non-discrimination.’
Some 12% of agricultural workers in the Netherlands and 7% of those in business services come from central and eastern Europe, the article states.
‘It is wrong to dismiss the complaints of those affected as the usual gripes about ‘foreigners’,’ the article states. ‘We recognise this reflex, but even if such complaints are often exaggerated, we must nevertheless take them seriously; if we don’t they will poison the atmosphere and fuel xenophobia.’
The Netherlands is already tackling ‘unscrupulous employers’ but action needs to be taken at an EU level, Asscher and Goodhart say. And Brussels has failed to take the negative aspects of the free movement of people seriously and need to put them ‘high on the agenda’.
‘If we wish to keep enjoying the benefits of free movement, we must be prepared to combat its negative side effects, from displacement to exploitation. This is in the interest of every EU citizen,’ the article concludes.
Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders used the microblogging service Twitter to call on Asscher to refuse free entry to people from Romania and Bulgaria. At the moment they need a special permit to work in the Netherlands.
‘Asscher should not open the borders to Romanians and Bulgarians in January 2014 but keep them shut, otherwise he is crying crocodile tears,’ the PVV party leader said.
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