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Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The European Union (1): Why is there substantial unemployment, while there are still many jobs available? A question of fancy horses and workhorses?!

Next to the free traffic of goods and services within the European Union, the free traffic of workers was the bedrock of the EU. This rule enabled workers from all countries of the EU to work in all other countries of the EU without permits, licenses and other protectionist measures. This brought enormous prosperity to the EU: people from countries with high unemployment went to the countries and cities that had work and economic growth available. They didn’t have to worry about paperwork. The workers got the jobs they wanted and the company that hired them got motivated workers for a good price. With the money that people sent home to their families, the prosperity in their home country was also soaring.

But this bedrock is currently under heavy fire, due to two reasons. There has been a substantial influx of people from the new member states of the EU (a.o. Poland, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria) that are looking for jobs in the older member states, like The Netherlands, Belgium, United Kingdom, Germany and France. This influx led to unrest at the native workers in low-education, hands-on jobs: “they are taking our jobs away and we will be jobless as our wages are too high, compared to theirs”

The second reason is the uprising of populism in Europe: ‘old’ politics didn’t want to address the issues concerning the growing population of generally low-educated Turkish, Algerian and Moroccan immigrants coming from poor regions, afraid as they were of being accused of discrimination. Issues like the looming segregation in the cities, the ‘black schools’, the growing influence of the Islam and the growing usage of welfare funds by these immigrants were picked up by the populist parties. Parties like `Le Front National` in France, ´Lega Nord´ in Italy and the PVV (Party for Freedom) in The Netherlands.

These parties promised the lower-educated native citizens to listen to their problems and “to fight the tsunamis of low-educated immigrants” from Turkey and Arabic countries “that are taking away our welfare euro´s”. But the struggle of the populist parties is not limited to the immigrants that came in the sixties, seventies and eighties of last century.

As these populistic parties have their reason of existence in protecting their own countries against the evil outside world in general, they are all also very much against the anonymous monster called the European Union.  The free traffic of workers, especially from the low-wage countries into the rich countries, is the devil´s breath of the monster and needs to be terminated.

Some of the “old” parties that saw their voters initially step over to the populist parties, adopted some of the statements of the populist parties: ´if you can´t beat them, join them´.

First victims of this new policy were the Polish people. Although their country became a full member of the EU, nevertheless countries like The Netherlands asked for temporary permits and even temporary bans on the Polish people. This was not literally against the European rules (only a little), but it was very much against the spirit of the EU.

All kinds of stories on `drunk Polish truckers` and ´jobs in greenhouses that were not available anymore to the native workers´ were printed in capitals in the populist newspapers. After a few years the Polish workers were fully allowed to the West-European job markets and everybody got used to it. Except for a few incidents, nobody talked about it anymore and the Polish workers became well-respected workers all over West-Europe. The populists saw a new victim in Rumanian, Albanian and Bulgarian workers (gipsys with accordions: spooky!), but had to accept them while teeth-grinding, due to EU rules.

But now the situation is different in The Netherlands: the Dutch large banks have been saved at enormous costs and the current rightwing/populist government needs €18 bln in cutbacks to cover the state budget. As the credit crisis is still on full steam and unemployment is expensive, the Dutch government thinks it is a good plan to put a ban on East-European workers in The Netherlands: especially the Rumanian and Bulgarian workers are banned.

Instead the Dutch unemployed people must do the jobs these Rumanian and Bulgarian workers can´t do anymore: harvesting crops in greenhouses and on farmland (strawberries, blackberries, grapes, asparagus, potatoes or flowers) and other heavy, labor-intensive and often dirty jobs. With the kindest regards of the Dutch government.

As inquiring minds will have guessed already: the Dutch unemployed DON´T want to do these jobs. A Dutch greenhouse farmer told on Dutch television with tears in his eyes that he got fifty forms of potential Dutch job applicants from the employment office, but NONE of them showed up for a job interview. He is now stuck in the situation that he is not allowed to hire his last-year Rumanian and Bulgarian workers and he doesn´t have enough workers to harvest his crop within two weeks. And with harvesting crops it is: do it the right way at the right time, or get burned litterally!

Even if you force unemployed people to accept these jobs, they might have a thousand ways to screw up. Squashed strawberries, broken asparagus or apples with brown spots, due to harsh handling. Every glasshouse worker can tell you that unmotivated workers are worse than useless, as they ruin their harvest and diminish their yields. You could take the welfare away from Dutch unemployed workers that won´t do these jobs, but nobody in The Netherlands will find that acceptable. It´s sad, but true.

Although the situation in other labor-intensive industries is not as bad as with the greenhouse farmers, it is also very difficult to get enough applicants for the heavy and dirty jobs that are available; even if these jobs are well-paid what they often are. And that leads to a totally ridiculous situation: substantial unemployment while there are many jobs available

Of course you could consider this a question of Dutch fancy horses against Rumanian workhorses, but if the fancy horses won´t work and you can´t get the workhorses, your company is screwed under these new rules.

This example is of course about The Netherlands, but you can have similar issues in countries like Ireland, Finland (!),Belgium and everywhere where populist parties are voting against EU rules and habits.

In my opinion it is bad to let healthy companies of hardworking people suffer from national rules with a high amount of ´wishful thinking´ in it. Let´s stop this populist nonsense and let us allow hardworking people from East-Europe to enter our countries and do the jobs our citizens won´t do anymore. It is not in the interest of our national economies to ban these people.

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