‘Can you imagine anything worse,’ a Hungarian once said to me, ‘than a Slav who thinks he’s Latin?’ He was referring to the Romanians, of course. There is a certain degree of tension in Romania between the ethnic Romanians, who run the place, and the ethnic Hungarians, who feel that they have been press-ganged into a chaotic and useless country and, worse, forced to learn a stupid language. The Hungarians hole up in the beautiful wilderness of Transylvania, yearning for the old empire and metaphorically spitting upon their political masters. But the enmity dissolves entirely when a third racial group is brought into the equation: the gypsies.
There are many competing hatreds down there, where the Black Sea meets Transcarpathia, but in this entertaining hierarchy of spite, everyone seems to be agreed that the gyppos are right at the bottom. It is likely to be the gypsies, and not the ethnic Romanians or the various brands of Hungarian who come over to see us next January, when our doors swing open and Professor Mary Beard hosts a vast welcoming party on the cabbage fields of Lincolnshire, with festive finger food and mindless platitudes.
I don’t think Romania, any of it, will shed much of a tear. We were enjoined by the Romanians to believe that our fears of being ‘flooded’ or ‘swamped’, or whatever emotive term you wish to use, were greatly overstated, and that the citizens of Romania would prefer to travel to places with which the home country had historic links. Such as, for example, Germany.
But that simply isn’t going to happen, is it? The Germans won’t let it happen. This week the new German minister of the interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich, said that his country would veto attempts by either Romania or Bulgaria to join the Schengen Agreement, which polices who can travel into and out of that large tranche of the EU which is signed up to the treaty. We are famously not part of Schengen. ‘Those who come only to receive welfare benefits and to abuse freedom of movement, they must be effectively prevented from doing so,’ Hans-Peter said upon taking office. This abuse of freedom of movement seems to be nothing more than the suspicion that they might indeed be tempted to, er, move — north and west, to where the money is, as soon as the invisible barriers come down ten months from now.
And so the Germans have once again decided that this isn’t on, and will stop the Romanians from flooding in, or swamping in, much as they stopped the Poles before. So, too, will the Dutch, who these days have lost a little of their lovable liberality when it comes to the subject of foreigners.
Where will the gypsies go, then? To Spain, with its magnificent 25 per cent unemployment? I think not. I think they’ll be heading straight for Great Britain to take advantage of the irony that we, aloof from the integrationist and federalist tendencies of the Germans and Dutch, are perversely likely, in practical terms, to be the most welcoming of countries. As our Prime Minister has reportedly assured his Romanian counterpart, we will hand out the benefits willy-nilly to any and everyone with a name ending in the letter ‘u’, without fear or favour. Almost nobody else will be doing that within this great integrationist project – just us.
I don’t blame the Germans and the Dutch for their hardline or post-liberal approach — but it does seem at odds with the philosophy of the European Union, doesn’t it? The EU is about free movement of labour within its boundaries and protectionist trade agreements designed to punish the developing world. All well and good, etc. There doesn’t seem to be much of a point in an EU which treats some of its members as sort of honorary sub-Saharan Africans and consequently deprives them of the benefits of freedom of movement which are enjoyed by the nice countries which are full of people who are properly white. If you wish Romania and Bulgaria to be members of the EU, then afford them precisely the same treatment you would mete out to, say, Denmark or Luxembourg. But there does not seem to be much of an appetite in Berlin or Amsterdam for this expansive and inclusive approach any more. There was once, but not now — not with the way things are.
Meanwhile, the political party which first raised the alarm about the likely influx from Sofia and Bucharest is being castigated for its ‘xenophobia’ and ‘racism’. Fresh from its partial success (i.e., it didn’t actually win) in the Eastleigh by-election, Ukip has been subjected to consecutive attacks from liberal and conservative commentators, such as Alan Massie, who likened the party to France’s Front Nationale, and the Liberal Democrat Lord Tyler, who implied that it might one day be responsible for a third world war — genocide, millions dead and so on. Or at least I think that’s what the idiot was getting at; suggesting that Ukip fanned the flames of a belligerent nationalism, just like that ghastly little Austrian man with the toothbrush moustache.
There are plenty of things to disagree with in Ukip’s manifesto, but I would suggest that taking roughly the same lines as the Germans with regard to immigration isn’t one of them. It is not xenophobic to worry about the effects of mass immigration — it never was, as the citizens of Germany and the Netherlands have latterly realised.