Month: November 2013

Ambassador Ion Jinga on the free movement of people in the European Union

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Recording of BBC World Service from the 27/11/2013 where Ambassador Ion Jinga discusses the issue of the free movement of people in the European Union

Celebrating Romania’s National Day

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Article in Huffington Post, 24/11/2013:

Dr Ion JingaIn the history of each nation there are special moments that celebrate the triumph of its achievements. 1 December 1918 is such a moment for Romanians. Ninety five years ago, by the votes of the overwhelming majority of people in Transylvania, this Romanian province was united with its motherland. By similar votes earlier that year, The National Assemblies of Bessarabia and Bukovina also had decided on the union with Romania.

Romanians’ dream to live together in a unitary state was a national project for centuries. Back in the history, the first union of the three medieval Romanian principalities – Walachia, Moldova and Transylvania – was achieved in 1600 under the rule of Prince Michael the Brave. Even though the union was broken after his assassination, it remained a symbol for the generations to follow. Then, on 24th January 1859 Walachia and Moldova merged into a single country, which in 1866 took the name “Romania”.

In ancient times, Romania’s territory was inhabited by the Dacians, described by Herodotus as “the bravest and most honest of the Tracians”. The Kingdom of Dacia was conquered by the Roman Emperor Trajan at the end of one of the bloodiest wars of the Antiquity. Last week, we celebrated together with Victoria and Albert Museum 1900 years since Trajan’s Column, commemorating the Dacian Wars, was built in Rome. A marvel of its time, the Column is also the beginning of the history of a nation, carved in stone. From the battles depicted on the Column a nation was forged and a language was born, the only Latin language in Central and Eastern Europe.

An impressive real life replica of Trajan’s Column is hosted by V&A. Since then, Romanians have remained without interruption within the same geographical space. Our name, as a Country and a Nation, comes from Rome – the capital city, and Romans – the citizens of the Roman Empire.

Dacian soldiers enrolled in the Roman legions have built the Antonine and Hadrian Walls. There are archaeological findings proving their presence in Britain for more than 300 years. Nowadays, Romanians continue to be skilled constructors in Britain, since almost 40% of the work force that last year built the Olympic Village in London was Romanian.

More recently, Romania and the UK were closely linked through their Royal families, Queen Maria of Romania being British by birth and grand daughter of Queen Victoria. These ties remained strong albeit Romania became a Republic, and last year, when The Queen celebrated the Diamond Jubilee, King Michael of Romania was seated next to Her Majesty, as a sign of respect and in recognition of the excellent bilateral relations between the United Kingdom and Romania.

Indeed, Romania and Great Britain have an outstanding cooperation and on 10 October the Romanian and British Foreign Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the bilateral Strategic Partnership, while acknowledging the positive contribution that most Romanians in the UK make to the British economy. The only shadow in this picture is the culture of blame spread by part of the British media and a few politicians. Populist rhetoric may win votes today, but the price is paid with the lives and reputation of thousands of hard working Romanians. Among them, almost 6000 Romanian students, many enrolled to the best British universities. Bill Rammell, Vice Chancellor at the University of Bedfordshire and former Minister of State for Further and Higher Education, said “Students from Romania perform exceptionally well”.

I have lived for many years abroad, enough to see that people usually first learn about Romania in what they read in newspapers or see on TV, which is generally limited and recently marked by scaremongering about migration.

As Ambassador, I had the opportunity to discover Britain’s true values: national pride, an incredible rich history, cultural diversity and high moral standards. Therefore, it comes as a great surprise to see how attitudes towards Romania have become so easily formed by misguided and biased opinions. I think the British public deserves to understand my country from a different perspective.

Between the Two WW, Romania was a regional power with a ruling elite educated in London, Paris and Berlin. Had my country not experienced 42 years of Communism, today Romania would have been at the same level of prosperity as the United Kingdom, France or Germany. Interviewed in the Wild Carpathia documentary film, HRH The Prince of Wales, a longstanding supporter for the conservation and promotion of Romania’s fantastic natural and cultural heritage, has described this land in most inspired words: “This is Romania. I have never seen anything like this”.

What Romania has its best, apart of its natural beauty, are its people. Migration may have seemed a solution during a time of economic crisis but now Romania’s GDP growth rate is the highest in Europe. According to the latest confidence barometer compiled by Ernst & Young, Romania re-emerges as a significant target for regional investments. More than 4,800 British companies are registered there, with a total investment of over 4.6 billion EUR and the UK takes the fifth place as Romanian exports destination within the EU. Therefore, we can no longer afford to lose our best brains and our skilled workers.

It is not surprising to speak in London, a capital city of civilization and economic liberalism, about the National Day of Romania, because more than 100,000 Romanians live and work in the UK. While respecting Britain, they remain Romanians in spirit, proud of their origins and confident in their future.

Romanian students in York: the flood of skilful immigration

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Chloe Farand, an editor with The Yorker and a ‘Treasured Friend’ of the York Romanian Society, wrote the following article on the 22nd of November, 2013:

In the light of the recent attacks of the right-wing populist press against Romanian immigration and the outspoken claim of a threat of“Thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians planning to flood the UK in 2014”, Romanian students in York and across the country have spoken out against this offensive upsurge of xenophobia.

It’s early on a Sunday morning, under the dim lights of the still unawakened Courtyard, that I meet Arina, Mihai, Ioan and Andrei, members of the Romanian Society in York and founders of the forum of Romanian Societies in the UK in April 2012.

While my eyes are still tired from too little sleep, the group of under-and-postgraduate students, finishing their take away coffee, are already very much alert. The atmosphere is relaxed but there is no doubt that we are about to embark on some serious discussion. I straighten up and open my eyes and ears.

The reason for our meeting is the publication on November 4th of a national press release, co-signed by the Association of Romanian Student Societies and the League of Romanian Student Abroad. The latter manifesto denounces the “pseudo-alarmists accounts” of Romanian immigration which, exacerbated by the current political climate, crystallised increasing hostility towards the Romanian community.

Indeed, despite Romania and Bulgaria having joined the European Union in 2007, both countries are still subject to workers restriction when immigrating to the UK. These restrictions were part of the deal made between the new member-countries and the EU as initial temporary restrictions on numbers allowed to come to the UK and an incentive for Romania and Bulgaria to improve wages and working conditions.

It suddenly seemed as if the greatest threat to 21st century Britain was an invasion of criminals and lazy, uneducated individuals eager to get their hands on all available benefits.

These restrictions could be prolonged by the hosting countries if they assumed that Romania and Bulgaria hadn’t met their target. France and the UK have used the maximum seven years extension of the legislation, therefore they are now legally compelled to abolish these restrictions by January 1st 2014.

The news, inflamed by conservative backbenchers and Ukip opportunists, has unleashed a violent mediatic debate about immigration and has put increasing pressure on the government to act in favour of tighter immigration regulation.

It suddenly seemed as if the greatest threat to 21st century Britain was an invasion from the East of criminals and lazy, uneducated individuals eager to get hands on all available benefits, spoil the schools with dirty and aggressive children and seize all the jobs from the native population until it gets down on its knees, begging.

Today’s Daily Mail front page “Enough is Enough” calls on Mr. Cameron to go against Brussels’ regulation and maintain the workers restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians immigrants despite the threat of a fine. Such a political stand, unsurprisingly advocated by the latter paper, would have dire consequences on Britain’s future in the European Union.

According to Romanian student representative organisations, the Romanian student body in the UK “is immensely more representative of the features of the Romanian community in Britain” than any of the accounts found in the populist press. As such, the students have taken it upon themselves to speak out in the name of the whole of the Romanian community in the UK.

Mihai Cocoru, former chair of the Romanian society in York and vice-chair for national activity, has fought on both the York and national scene in order to ensure the integration of the Romanian community. He says:

The problem with the press in the UK is that they have been using the Ukip message in order to create sensation and increase their readership. But altogether they have presented very few convincing arguments. The alleged behaviour of Romanian immigrants is one that we do not tolerate.

Indeed, since the creation of the Romanian society in February 2011, dedicated groups of Romanian students have brought their support to the Romanian community established in York. They help and give advice to around fifty families in York with things such as enrolling at the Jobcentre, opening a bank account and obtaining a national insurance number. The credo of the Romanian society is however clear: there is a zero tolerance policy regarding the practice of any illegal activities.

Arina, who finished her Masters in York in June and is currently working as a Marketing Executive in the city, says that the majority of the Romanian community in York is middle class, educated and has a good command of English – which by Romanian standards is likely to mean absolutely fluent. Amongst them are a couple of doctors, the director of a clinic and the head of a local company.

The group of students seems to agree that all the Romanian families in York appear to have integrated perfectly well and that they themselves have never encountered any prejudices here because of their nationality.

Mihai confirms that York is a good example of the immigration of a group of people

with a set of skills who were willing to get the best out of their skills and therefore decided to come to Britain. But the reason for their coming is not because they thought there was milk and honey in the tap, which is what the press is successfully trying to convey.

Mihai is talking quickly in a perfectly mastered English: his tone is sharp and his determination is apparent through the weight he gives to each word.

He adds confidently:

I am a European, highly skilled individual and I can go wherever is best.

Yet, there is no doubt that “wherever is best” is tied to the prospect of a better pay: whilst social workers in the UK get a minimum of £12 an hour, in Romania they receive no more than £2. [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/10/flood-romanian-migrants-not-going-to-happen]

I am a European, highly skilled individual and I can go wherever is best.

Skills. The word is repeated over and over again, resonating like a chant in their mouths. Rarely have I witnessed that much determination from students at York: ambition does not even come close to describing what is driving the group of students.

Andrei, the society’s secretary and currently a second year computer science student, asserts that about 60 to 70 per cent of what he is studying this year he has already learnt in his school back in Romania. To the question what was his reason for coming to study in the UK, Andrei replied:

I want to study and learn as much as possible in my niche and then go back home and change something. I would like to start my own company and make a difference in Romania.

Ioan Polenciuc, chair of the Romanian society and doing his Phd in Physics adds that

Britain is benefiting from Romania’s brain drain. We would recommend that students go back to Romania.

Today, the UK is the host of no more than 200,000 Romanians; about 6,000 are students who usually make the top of their institution. According to the National Press Release of November the 4th, the UK Migration Advisory Committee has noted that the Romanian community in the UK is not only one of the youngest communities, but also has one of the lowest unemployment rates, close to 4.4%.

However, the latter figures are not the ones picked up by the press. On the contrary, a 26% rise of Romanian workers between April and June of this year, amounting the number of Romanians in the national workforce to 0.3%, has clearly aroused passions.

As British unemployment remains one of the country’s greatest concerns, headlines such as “How do I claim benefits when I get to Britain” and“Romanians rush for ‘Come to UK’ jobs” continue to flourish.

Yet, there will be no Romanian invasion in the coming year, as Mihai puts it:

Romanians who wanted to come to the UK already did despite the restrictions.

This is just another example to fit the uneasy debate on immigration. Yet again, it seems that the anger and fear which have invaded the public sphere are, above all, reflecting the country’s own anxieties about its job market, its social welfare system and its place in the European Union.

Aggressive press articles on Romanian immigration unfortunately still have a long life ahead, and yet, like Mihai, Arina, Ioan and Andrei leave the Courtyard, I cannot but believe that the Romanian case has got plenty of hope.

Read article in The Yorker here.

Romanian Students in the UK – a Mistreated Asset –

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On the 4th of November, 2013, in an exemplary instance of collaboration and cooperation between the UK branch of the League of Romanian Students Abroad (LSRS – UK) and the Association of Romanian International Student Societies (ARISS), the Romanian students’ associative environment in the UK issued the following press release:

download               ariss-alina-var-finala-site

This document represents a press release issued by Romanian students in the United Kingdom through the organizations which represent them, in response to recent press criticisms against the Romanian community. Its main purpose is to present a representative and true account of the Romanian presence in the UK, namely that of a mistreated asset.

High-flying libel has been set as standard in the past year within the British right-wing populist media, with the local Romanian community being the punching bag in the search of an ever increasingly ignorant readership. In a media Farage-isation, bombastic accounts revealed how  Romanian gangs of beggars and criminals, already terrorising Britain, can’t wait for January 1st, 2014, when work restrictions are lifted, and their ‘mates’ – the benefits seekers – can freely leave their homes, where “they live like animals”, to come and suffocate the British labour market. Pseudo-alarmist accounts call for drastic solutions, ranging from extending the restrictions placed on Romanians’ access to the UK labour market to the outright British withdrawal from the EU. Representatives of Romanian students’ organizations in the UK, the present signatories of this line of argument, however, are keen on emphasizing one clear point: ignorance hurts!

We are keen to use this channel in order to present a realist account of our segment of the local Romanian community – namely Romanian students in the UK. This segment embodies anything but the above-mentioned examples and, most significantly, is immensely more representative of the true features of the Romanian community in Britain than the accounts above. Consequently, as Romanians in the UK, we take direct offence in the intentional attempt at libeling our image and deplore both the superficiality of the xenophobic rhetoric which influences such arguments and the (lack of) deontological norms behind their publication in a number of right-wing populist media outlets in Britain.

The intellectual competences of Romanian students in the UK have been constantly recognised by both British academia and peers alike. Romanian students are continually evaluated to be among the best within British education, not least because the Romanian educational system in which they originated has a strong knowledge focus. Thus, there exists a significant degree of complementarity Between the Romanian knowledge-based education curricula and the British research skills-oriented focus and this, in itself, represents both a feature of British Higher Education which appeals to our nationals and a factor which increases their competitive advantage – as they develop to become products of both frameworks. This isn’t to say, however, that Romanian students do give back to the system that educates them. According to the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency, during the 2011/12 academic year, 5915 Romanian nationals were enrolled within UK Higher Education Institutions, of which 5175 were studying in England. At an average rate of £3200 per year, Romanian students in England have paid their universities a total of £16,560,000 in tuition fees alone. If one would add to this a very small estimate of £50 per week in accommodation costs (although, in general, in England rents are known to be higher), simply by living in England for 38 weeks of the year meant that another £9,832,500 can be added to the sum and, without accounting for any other expenses (such as shopping, utilities, etc.), £26,392,500 was the 2011/12 sum of money paid by our students enrolled at English universities to cover the costs associated with their education. In other words, throughout their (average of) 3 years of undergraduate studies, our 2011/12 generation would have paid a little under £80 million in Romanian capital transferred to England. Again, this very cautious estimate does not account for any other expenses such as shopping, bills, living in accommodation for longer than 38 weeks, pursuing postgraduate studies (and paying for tuition fees for longer than 3 years), or paying post-2013 tuition fees exceeding £3200. By comparison, 5000 Romanian students paying the increased tuition fees alone following 2011/12, would pay £45,000,000 per academic year to English academic institutions.

Giving back does not stop here. As the results of professional formation begin to show, Romanian students transform into young, multilingual and intelligent professionals, and, to the potential benefit of Britain, direct contributors to the British economic recovery and growth. Even the UK Migration Advisory Committee has noted in 2012 that educated foreign nationals, such as our own, increase the skills capital available to companies/organizations employing them, which leads to a visible increase in their competitiveness. This is where the representativeness of the Romanian student community in the UK becomes most obvious – as the main supply base for the future young and highly skilled Romanian workforce in Britain, which, according to Push and Pull Factors for Romanians and Bulgarians (2012) is the most active of all foreign communities in the United Kingdom and has an unemployment proportion of only 4.4%. This is, however, only if Britain is attractive enough to be able to benefit from their assets. In this sense, statements such as that of Foreign Secretary William Hague that “In view of the fact that the UK will lift working restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals on 1 January 2014 in accordance with our legal obligations, we acknowledged the positive contribution that most Romanians in the UK make to the UK economy” are welcomed by the Romanian student community in the UK as a sign of mainstream normality, and research contributions, such as the recent study carried out by the University College London, as a focus on real data.

As proud representatives of their country in the United Kingdom, Romanian students have created one the most cohesive institutional frameworks in Europe for the promotion of their culture and spirit within the academic environments in which they live and work. At a micro level, relationships between Romanian and non-Romanian nationals in the UK resulting from this framework are indicative not only of the spirit of collaboration and shared values between Romanians, Britons and other internationals, but also of the intrinsic and wide-ranging academic co-operation that our students are experiencing throughout their studies. The National Day of Romania, on December 1st, when the entire corpus of Romanian student associations in the UK celebrates not in isolation, but through events to which the majority of guests are British and other international students, professors and researchers, is only one example in which this phenomenon is manifested. Excellence, potential, and meritocratic success represent the characterizing features of the Romanian student community in the UK and they are manifested in a developed and open associative environment which nicely fits into the British multicultural horizons. Multiculturalism, as a celebrated political proposal, has been extensively and discursively promoted in recent years, fact which has massively influenced Romanian students’ choice to study in the UK. However, it is arguable that today’s public discourse is encountering a backlash from multiculturalism in the lights of the increased security measures which aim to redefine immigration policies, among a variety of other strategic decisions. All these place a shadow on Romanian students in the UK, as well, creating a dangerous, concerning and misunderstood label which does nothing else than stigmatizing both their potential and the UK’s benefits from their intellectual and material contribution to wider socio-economic developments.

Neither populism nor xenophobia represent new phenomena. Present instances of their manifestation throughout Europe reveal that they constitute nothing more than archaic instances of rhetoric typical to uneducated activists. Though, as their expression in British media reveals, this does not make them less dangerous or less offensive. Romanian students in the UK can accept the existence and narrative of UKIP as a disconcerting oddity in an otherwise exemplary political environment. However, the success of this political faction in getting its purposefully offensive message across through right-wing populist media institutions can only be codified as a deal aimed at increasing the audience of the said institutions – and this, in itself, represents nothing less than a cheap shot.

Romanian students in the UK are also keen to assure the British public that they do not promote the false image of a 100% saintly Romanian community in Britain. On the contrary, as a community we display the same zero-tolerance to crime and abuse towards our own nationals as towards all others. We are, however, of the strong opinion that the flaws displayed by our nationals are in no way different or more widespread than those of any other European population and, for that matter, of Britain as well. Nonetheless, we could never conceive to pass judgements regarding the United Kingdom exclusively by virtue of Britons’ flaws – a luxury that we were not afforded in the past year.

Signed on the 4th of November 2013 by:

Andrei Ioan Stan, League of Romanian Students Abroad UK Branch (LSRS-UK)

Ariel Alexander Chis, Association of Romanian International Student Societies (ARISS)

Andrei Dinca, University of Durham Romanian Society

Ioan Polenciuc, York Romanian Society

Madalina Luca, King’s College London Romanian Society

Alexandra Bogatu, UCLU Romanian and Moldovan Society

Octavian Tuchila, Imperial College Romanian Society

Cristiana Mirosanu, University of Sheffield Romanian Society

Catalin Munteanu-Ene, Warwick University Romanian Speaking Society

Ema Mihaela Tudose, University of Manchester Romanian Society

Alexandra Irina Pinzariu, Romanian Society at University of Nottingham

Alois Afilipoaie, University of Bradford Romanian Society

Radu Oprescu, University of Edinburgh Romanian Society

Ion Ambrinoc, University of Oxford Romanian Society

Florin Alexandru Sîntean, Glasgow Romanian Society

Adriana Solomon, Napier University Romanian Society

Nida Serban, Leeds Romanian Society

Dan Angelache, Southampton Romanian Society

Dorin Frasineanu, Leicester University Romanian

Vladimir Vancea, Loughborough Romanian Society

Ioana Nastasia Alexandru, Essex Romanian Society

Diana Somanescu, Exeter Romanian Society

Cora Georgiana, Portsmouth Romanian Society