Blair's flawed legacy heading this way from Romania

Romanians camped out in London’s Park Lane feel they have reached a hopeful New World where, because of the distinctive nature of Britain’s welfare state, they can access its services

Blair with Romanian PM Victor Ponta
Tom Gallagher
On 12 June 2013 08:26

Last week, the Home Affairs Select Committee descended on Bucharest to try and estimate if conditions in Romania were as bad as sections of the media were claiming. They were presented with a report by one of the country’s main polling companies which indicated that 24 percent of 18 to 35 year-olds were interested in working in Britain.

The UK's remaining labour restrictions will cease in January and it would go against all trends in European migration over the last two hundred years if there was not an exodus towards these shores.

The Romanians are a famously cheerful lot, but any really observant MPs on Keith Vaz’s select committee would have soon found evidence of a demoralised country. Where work can be found, the wages are derisory and usually unable to meet basic living expenses.

This applies even for middle-class occupations which explains why there is an exodus of qualified doctors and other professionals. Bribery is often the norm in order to obtain services which in Britain are strictly free. No wonder Romanians camped out in London’s Park Lane feel they have reached a hopeful New World where, because of the distinctive nature of Britain’s welfare state, they can access its services.

This is Merry England and not grim-faced Germany or capricious France where officials crack down on misdemeanours and send misbehaving Romanians back home irrespective of what European laws might say. If coming to Britain involved the perilous oceanic crossing that millions of Europeans undertook to reach America after 1700, the Romanians would still come. Common sense ought to indicate that and contingency plans should be made to try and prevent doctors' surgeries, hospitals and other social services being overwhelmed by the new arrivals.

The one man the visiting MPs should have tried to get answers from was not a Romanian but Tony Blair. He was in Bucharest at the same time as they were. It was reported in the Romanian press that he was coaching the controversial young Prime Minister Victor Ponta about how to handle Chancellor Merkel whom he visited this week.

She had bawled him out last year when he tried to mount a constitutional coup-d’etat and depose the President who was the chief defender of anti-corruption judges and prosecutors.

Britain has stood up for the good guys in Romania but it has come far too late. Tony Blair was the European decision-maker chiefly responsible for hustling a country with a venal elite and a broken-down economy into the EU on a phony prospectus of change.

At least, he hasn’t pretended that Romania deserves the kind of democracy that his fellow British citizens find desirable. He was last there in April 2012 on the eve of Ponta’s crackdown on independent institutions. He anointed the Romanian young gun as a left-wing European moderniser and left  €200,000 better off for his troubles.

Blair sees himself as a latter-day Prince of Europe who traverses the continent, offering patronage to wannabee political stars who in turn will grease the wheels of his foundation and offer him the backing to enable him to fill one of the top European jobs.

His vision is that of a European post-democracy where decisions are made in restricted groups of insiders faraway from  any democratic authority. This is how his cabinet operated and this is how he handled European business in late-night summits. It is decision-making hardly any more open and accountable than that of the monarchs and chief ministers of Europe who came together before the age of democratic parliaments to settle the affairs of the continent.

This elite-led club's politics led to the globalisation agenda which saw huge economic and demographic changes transform British cities and place former public companies and locally-based firms in the hands of foreign operations which exploited their customers ruthlessly.

Ordinary Romanians had a far worse experience with unrestrained globalisation than the British. They were the ones whose jobs vanished and prices soared so that  Romania could proclaim itself a market economy. State firms and utilities vanished or were sold off to be replaced by German and Austrian firms which made eye-watering profits.

The Romanian state also offered lucrative contracts to firms close to the ruling parties in France and Germany. So who could refuse Romania membership of the EU in 2007? It had been so obliging to the very same economic interests which the EU  is currently defending during the marathon Eurozone  crisis, destroying  the livelihood of the youth of southern Europe in the process.

The head of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee must have memories of how Blair began the process whereby Romania is a virtual economic colony of the core EU states. After all, Keith Vaz was Europe minister from 1999 to 2001 when Blair unfurled the mirage of Romanian Europeanisaton.

A peripheral and backward post-communist country would be transformed as the EU gradually projected its norms and values eastwards. But political democracy and social justice were the casualties. Ordinary Romanians, mainly  pro-western in outlook, endured the shock therapy but conditions failed to improve afterwards.

No wonder a huge exodus of Romanians has occurred, involving many of the best and the brightest citizens. It is likely that the Romanians who will disproportionately reach these shores after 2013 are those who have grown accustomed to bad government in which they are thrown the scraps from the politicians' table.

They may well have memories of the dependency culture that prevailed under communism and see in Britain a more humane and bountiful version of their old order.

There are wise and alert members of Keith Vaz’s commitee, such as Mark Reckless and one hopes some of its Labour members too. Surely they can begin to see through the alchemy of "Europeanisation" which prominent Euro-Brits such as Blair, and indeed Chris Patten, Foreign affairs commissioner of the EU from 1999 to 2004, practised on Romania. 

At the very least, Blair should set aside a large part of his substantial fortune to reduce the fall-out on vulnerable British communities of his reckless adventures in the Balkans. Or perhaps it would be easier simply to introduce a bill in parliament to tax the Tony Blair foundation at 99 percent on account of the havoc it has caused to the nation. How many MPs could possibly oppose such an overdue measure?

Tom Gallagher is the author of Romania and the European Union, published by Manchester University Press in 2009

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