UK ministers are considering plans to launch a negative ad campaign in Bulgaria and Romania in order to deter potential immigrants, the Guardian reported today (28 January).
The move takes place after the European Commission made it plain that Britain cannot unilaterally require visas for Romanians and Bulgarians.
In October 2012, Home Secretary Theresa May said that visas could be introduced for migrants from some EU countries, while others would still be able to go the UK freely. She spoke of “abuse of freedom of movement at EU level”, referring to the lifting of labour restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians starting in 2014.
When Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in January 2007, a maximum period of seven years was agreed in their accession treaties for keeping work restrictions. Most EU countries have since lifted the restrictions, the UK being among the countries that still require Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have a work permit (see background).
The UK's eurosceptic press claimed that swathes of impoverished Bulgarian and Romanian youths would seek to emigrate to the UK for a better life. A similar campaign in 2006, before the two countries' EU accession treaty, evoked fears of an exodus, which didn’t take place.
Social media buzz
The news that the UK was to spend taxpayers’ money to create a negative image of itself is making a buzz in social media. The Guardian invited its readers to send their proposals in text and picture why Britain isn't exactly the best place on earth.
Here are some of the entries:
“Picture of an angry skinhead with the tagline ‘Your friendly neighbourhood racist’”; “Just surround the UK with crime scene tape”; “Tell them that Brits hate children and hate continental Europeans”; “Just tell them it's full of bloody Bulgarians and Romanians”; "Want to be owned and run by the Russians again? Come to Britain!" One wrote : “Hang on, it's not April 1st, is it?”
On the Bulgarian side, Twitter was overflowing with posts with the “avoidBritain” hashtag. This is a selection of tweets advising Bulgarians not to go in the UK: “The beer in the pub is at least 8 leva [nearly 4 pounds]”; “Do you want to pay several pounds for a small plastic pack of cherries?”; “A Brit was asked: How is summer in your country? It depends, he said. Last year it was on Wednesday”; “Brits are poor. London mayor goes to work on bike”.
The translation of the Guardian article by Dnevnik, EurActiv's partner publication in Bulgaria, drew 99 comments in less than two hours. Many of them focused on the fact that Britain apparently tries to find a scapegoat for its real immigration problems, which it doesn’t have the courage to address.
“There can be no worse publicity for Britain that the ongoing Islamisation of the country,” one comment reads. According to another, “the Brits don’t want the educated and ambitious people” from Eastern Europe, because they perceive them as “competitors” for their jobs. According to the same participant to the forum, the Brits have no such fears with regards to immigrants from Africa or the Arab world.
Not all the comments are humorous. A commentator with the nickname Ghost_Dog writes that he despairs from the lack of reaction of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry to what he sees as an offence for the country.
“As I live in the UK, I’m deeply concerned by the whole story. Here all news regarding Bulgaria are either completely negative, or with a strong bias. Thousands of Spanish, Italians etc migrate to the UK seeking employment, and there are no problems for them. Are we the lowest category of people,” Ghost_Dog wrote.