European Union

The Hordes are coming?

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Schengen Agreement
Schengen Agreement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since 01 Jan. 2014 Romanians and Bulgarians have had the restrictions on free movement lifted, 7 years since accession to the EU and now they are free to travel for work.

The Disaster Scenario for British PM David Cameron I guess. He announced that Romanians and Bulgarians would not enjoy the same freedoms as those from other European countries, no not a bit of it, they would be excluded from claiming the same social benefits freely available to others. Britain would not be over-run by scroungers!

David Cameron knows this ‘problem’ does not arise, they are coming to work in the main. But he nonetheless continues to agitate the populist radical right who are spoken to by UKIP. He will continue to do this right up to the European Elections in May 2014, after then who knows what his and his party’s position on the matter will be. Add to this political frenzy of over-speculation the British tabloid press coverage and yes we have a storm of Romanian and Bulgarian scroungers just simply queuing to get on planes, trains and automobiles to get to Britain, and only Britain!

This is no shock, back in 2007 when the 2 countries gained accession there were fears, deep seated fears. The British tabloids at the time imagined hordes would come, fill-up the remaining few British social houses, hospitals and school places.

At the time experts in immigration and population movement said that the effect would not be great. Yes, some would move to Britain but not so many as to swamp the country in feckless beggars and scroungers though. All that has to be remembered is that from 2001 Romanians and Bulgarians could travel freely in the Schengen area without a visa. There was no mass migration, there is no reason to believe that there will be a mass migration so spectacular that the social fabric of society will be torn away at the seams.

But at the time there was no UKIP, the political tone was much more moderate. This time the press and politicians outdid themselves and their hostile and xenophobic language has attracted amazement and bitterness in Bulgaria and Romania. Many articles on the subject are translated, and often make the headlines in both countries.

But there is a great paradox, in Bulgaria, 18,000 Britons have bought holiday homes in the resorts, enjoying an almost Mediterranean climate on the cheap. There is no animosity between the British and Bulgarians to my knowledge, except in the virtual space of the tabloids and the comments they generate from our political leaders.

So my conclusion: Bulgarians and Romanians do not have much to worry about Mr Cameron. You have expressed your doubts, you have agitated. Although in my opinion, it is losing the European elections that you are worrying about, not the moderate influx of people wishing to better their lives through toil and hard work. But for many reasons, the Bulgarian and Romanian have a bad image in the EU. This has nothing to do with Mr. Cameron and Sofia and Bucharest it is to do with the economic disadvantages of their nations. The EU is large and will do well to continue to enlarge itself for the time being.

Britain was after-all the architect of Romanian and Bulgarian accession, she got what she asked for so why complain?

Asylum

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English: Chart showing in-country UK immigrati...
English: Chart showing in-country UK immigration removals, (failed asylum seekers and others), since 1993 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The media is fond of shining a spotlight on our asylum system, it makes good copy or TV. Its not the best way of running a debate but it does illustrate a reality that should not be overlooked. Britain like the rest of developed Europe is facing increasing asylum demands, probably in the region of 70% increase in the last 8 years.

The influx of asylum seekers is as a direct consequence of the numerous conflicts and wars around the globe. Asylum of itself is not a problem and should never be seen in terms of being a problem, its the fact that there is at the same time massive economic migration going on. Asylum is a tradition of most developed western European nations, a proud tradition in most cases and it must be preserved, it must be accepted that we are fortunate and have the honor of assisting those who need our help. I find it shocking that there are some who reside in this country who feel differently.

Nonetheless, it might be fair to comment that our processing centers are perhaps close to full and stretched for staff. The cracks are becoming obvious. The system is unable to deal with complex situations meaning it slows and blocks preventing those who might most need our help from getting it because we just don’t know they need it.

We should feel rightly proud that asylum seekers come to our countries with the intention of seeking help and maybe even settling on a more permanent basis. The contribute to the wealth (economically and culturally) to our societies. But its clear that the social support systems cannot support these people, those employed to help, the case-workers burn-out with massive levels of sickness absence. All the time the human tragedies build. There is a need to protect the individuals but also there is a need for process which is at best a delayed process.

I would agree with anybody who said reform is urgently needed. Without question we should not settle for half measures, current failures should be corrected, but not at any cost. The economic cost of failure is mounting but so is the probable economic cost of doing the job right. My experience in industry is that doing something right first time is the most economically cost effective way of doing a job. I have no doubt that the same apply’s to the asylum system.

Delays might be necessary, so improved holding centers to accommodate the asylum seekers while the initial checks are being done would be a really good start. Simplification of procedures and processes would also help greatly. These two factors would simply add to the quality and speed of service provided, making it more respectful and certain in outcome.

A win-win in anybody’s language I guess.

At the borders of course better directional control would be needed, this is not a resources issue but probably a training and information issue.

And then once a final decision is made the person if successful should be assimilated into society. With a fully renovated procedure the asylum seeker and society will be both better served.

Final decisions are important and really need to be as speedy as possible. I’m sure most would agree that an asylum seeker should not have to face an almost endless wait on deportation or not. There has got to be clear pathways for those who do not gain asylum, they should not be expected to wait for an appropriate moment for return to their own country.  Our collective responsibility as a European Union should be ensuring those who want and need out help can access it but those who do not are dealt with firmly, fairly and quickly.

Trust Yourself

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moo.com business cards
moo.com business cards (Photo credit: bargainmoose)

There are many times in life when it is very tempting not to trust yourself but to go with the crowd, go with the flow. That way when mistakes are made and you come to regret your actions you can rely on the thought that everybody else said or did the same. There are many instances in history which are of note where this has happened and has led to catastrophic events unfolding.

I’m sure that some some who were involved in the slaughter in the Balkans, in Rwanda and in the Holocaust have lived to deeply regret their actions (even if they would have paid a very heavy price for refusal to cooperate). I’m equally sure that there are some who didn’t and some who don’t care either way.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been involved in a business reorganization. As part of any reorganization of a business there had to be some job losses. People with long service histories were made redundant. In some cases people with almost double the amount of service I have (18 years so far).

Naturally the process was mentally and emotionally painful, perhaps more for those who lost their jobs than me, but nonetheless there was pain. Of course what I was doing was right, I absolutely believe my actions to be correct. I had the long-term health of the business at the forefront of my mind when taking those far-reaching and life changing decisions. But do I regret my actions? No, not at all. Less than a week after some of those with long-term service have left and there are already employees trying to make an impression, trying to improve how things are done.

I suppose to some extent this is just showing-off, trying to impress in the hope that they aren’t next. But in so many other ways it frees people to shine, to do what they do as well as they can. A breath of fresh air!

Traditionally when we have made groups of people redundant we have picked out those employees with least service and lowest pay in order to minimize the up-front cost. This has never really made a real and deep and lasting difference to the business. We see cost reductions and then over a period of time the cost creeps back into the business and after 9 or 12 months we then find ourselves back in the same position. Almost like a crash diet and then when the diet is over eat as normal.

What we had to do was find a way of attacking the under-lying reasons for why things just don’t seem to change. Well, I remember on one those tedious management courses I’ve done somebody once saying that its sergeants that run the army, and this gave me a clue as to where to look when making changes. That’s right, I had a good hard look at the middle ranks and this was where the problem lay. They just didn’t want to embrace change, either self generated or enforced. So they had to go.

Its cost a lot up-front I have to admit but its worth it.

Those who had to leave were the ones who blocked progress, who were in the way of change, in the way of improvement. By removing them they way has opened-up for new talent to shine, new ideas to come into the open and new ways of doing things.

We have quite a number of employees from many countries (UK, within the EU and outside the EU) each with a breadth of experience but little in the way of educational achievement or family stability. And 1-week after the clear-out and they are beginning to shine. All those experiences, all those personal struggles they have had have made them a resilient bunch, they have made them into a group of people who can find ingenious ways of solving problems.

To struggle is good, it teaches us how to be resilient, creative in solving problems and to see opportunity when it comes.

So I have to live with my decisions, what I did and why I did it. I find it easy to live with my decisions of the last few weeks, they were the right ones for all concerned.

They were called Gypsies

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A Polish Romani woman
A Polish Romani woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Europe has a long and diverse history so far as the Roma or Gypsy are concerned. The Roma population is not homogeneous in nature, it is divided through the events of history and the passage of time.

The Roma populations right across Europe share common parts of their language and expressions but the stories they tell are very different indeed.

In France the first record of Roma is from the Bohemian populace and dates from the Middle Ages. In Romania, Moldovia and Wallachia there could be found a very high concentration of Roma peoples linked to the often found enslavement of these people. Slavery was abolished in the 1850’s and it was recorded that in Romania they had over 200,000 Roma in a total population of 4.4 million people.

Today there is presently around 10 million Roma right across the European Diaspora and notably about 14 million world-wide, so a European issue really. Roma peoples in Central and Eastern Europe account for anything up to 10% of the populace. In Western Europe the story is very different. In France for example there are 250,000 Roma derived from the group formally known as the ‘nomads’; these were people engaged in itinerant occupations recorded in ‘The Plan of the Nomads’.

Spain and Portugal also have very defined groups with a very strong sense of identity. After the Great Plague of 1347 in the Middle Ages people migrated from Graeci, Albanasi and Cingari to Southern Italy, Spain & Portugal. In Spain the Roman Catholic Monarchs practiced against the Roma in the same way they practiced against the Jews; conversion or death. This policy led to a concentration around Andalucia where the Flamenco culture comes from. Back in France Roma collected in the Catalan towns of Marseille and Montpellier living a sedentary lifestyle.

Today the reason for Roma movement is driven by the factors of economic activity and a place to live freely.

Roma populations are broadly speaking right across Western Europe rejected, but this is nothing new. In France there have been many notable attempts to purge the Kingdom of the Roma. Into the 19th century the Roma had a much better time of it and were tolerated in France. This changed in 1907 when things turned very violent, the policing of the wandering risk , the abject race as they became known. By 1930 most Western States had made legal arrangements to control the Roma, to record who they were, where they were and what they were doing.

In 1940 the French State went further in requiring full assimilation of the Roma. They were no-longer allowed to just drift and to have an independent identity. They were either French of not French. But things relaxed some in 1969 when the Roma with no fixed place of residence were given the name of traveler.

In the modern era life for the Roma is once again becoming difficult through social and cultural mistrust. The political climate is again moving against the Roma. But there is confusion; the Roma from Southern France, Spain, Italy as well as Central Europe share a common identity. The Roma from the UK, Northern France, Switzerland and the Scandinavian Countries are not joined by a common heritage.  The status of these Roma is still and shall remain subject to national identities. The proposed French administrative system of travelers permits is perhaps a way of dealing with the activities, movements and work arrangements but will rely on some level of European integration or assimilation.

One of the central European dreams is freedom of movement of people and the Roma typify freedom of movement, its just that the national administrative systems cannot hope at present to keep up with the movements of the Roma. Non-the-less the total movement of people is near to 15,000 across Europe so nothing like the 250,000 people who made their way into France in the Middle Ages.

Protection of the rights of the Roma is important but the stateless sense of the Roma people has got to be addressed. The Roma bring mistrust among local populations, crime and localized environmental issues to be addressed. The Roma cannot be allowed to become stateless and therefore free from tax liability, free from social accountability and free from cultural inclusion but they must be allowed to maintain their very essence.

Of course the effects of the travelers from Northern Europe are all together a different matter. These Roma are not ethnically identified, they are people who have chosen to adopt a life-style, something short of homeless. They have a home, they have a national identity, they do not need assimilation, they do not form part of a Diaspora, they bring social, cultural and legal difficulties and they contribute little in the way of economic or societal contribution.

To understand the Roma is to understand their history and who they actually are.

Savoir-Faire

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Rencontres Valmer
Rencontres Valmer (Photo credit: CMI Marseille)

Economies have to date largely followed a similar path no matter which geographical region;

  1. Pre-Industrial – typified as an agricultural economic model
  2. Industrial – mostly based on manufacturing and engineering
  3. Post-Industrialmass production, mass customization, services
  4. Knowledge Economy – education, growth of artificial knowledge, research & development

Our latest economic manifestation is dependent on an integrated IT/communications structures being in place & an IT literate populace. Data handling, algorithms, simulated modeling, innovation of products and processes – this is the currency of language used. Basically the world economy is coming to rely on well placed clusters of highly motivated, connected, intelligent collaborations of engineers, chemists, biologists, physicists… the fabric of modern economies is reliant on knowledge.

The global depletion of natural resources is a natural driver of the green-infrastructure, the pressure to deliver ever improved products at ever decreasing prices means research is paramount. Knowledge provides the answers, knowledge is the foundation stone of the problem solving that is taking place at ever increasingly faster pace with vaster amounts of information to analyse.

Its now being suggested that the next economic model will be the Network Economy where the localized knowledge amassed is shared across vast networks globally (and perhaps further in time).

There are interlocking drivers for this revolution:

  1. Globalization – markets and products are more and more globally sought and provided
  2. Information – efficiency in production means knowledge, over 70% of workers in developed knowledge based economies are knowledge workers (they use their heads rather than their hands)
  3. Media – media spreads knowledge, knowledge increases as its used, existing knowledge becomes easier to access as a result of data-bases
  4. Computer Networking – the internet is bringing the global village ever closer

Goods and services can be bought internationally and sold from almost anywhere you can be based provided you have a connection, a computer, phone and access to funds just about anywhere on the planet.

The economics are not related to scarcity; unlike most resources, knowledge when used increases in volume. The economics therefore are related to how information, how knowledge is filtered for effective use. The danger therefore of the exponential growth of the amount of information is that the really important stuff is lost in the wires. The challenge is to effectively filter and bring to the fore that knowledge which is needed and that which is not.

My guess is that a concerted effort by any or some of the emerging economies to bring about a knowledge based economy may just leap-frog them past the industrial stuff. It will however, take a huge effort and present a massive risk but good luck to them if they try.