New Dutch attitudes to immigrants concern EU
Plans to expel jobless foreigners spark reflection in 'liberal' Holland
Published 10/07/2011 | 05:00
ADAM Staniak is not someone you would expect to take a tough line on Polish migrant workers. Indeed, they are the bulk of his clients -- filing into the shop that he owns in the Polish district of The Hague to stock up on swoyska sausage and Tyskie beer.
But for Mr Staniak, 32, himself an immigrant from Poland, those who have been unemployed for many months should return home. "If you work here in the Netherlands, then there is no problem," he said. "But if you have no job, then you should go back."
Henk Kamp, the minister for social affairs and employment, seems to agree. Earlier this year he recommended expelling EU migrants from the newer member states who had been unemployed for more than three months, and cutting benefits for those who failed a Dutch-language test.
"We need to avoid migrants who decide to live here for a longer period of time not being able to integrate and ending up on the margins of society," he said. "This leads to them claiming social provisions such as social security benefits and shelter that are not intended for them."
It is a proposal that has called into question the liberal, relaxed approach for which the Dutch are renowned, and has led to soul-searching throughout the nation. Holland has been shaken by the rise of Geert Wilders's far-right Freedom Party, which is growing in power and influence. Now, with Poland having taken over the EU presidency at the start of this month, Mr Kamp's proposals -- currently being investigated by the Dutch parliament -- have become politically highly charged.
The plans have pitted the Dutch government against the EU. In much the same way that France provoked the ire of EU officials by deporting Roma migrants last summer, the actions by the Dutch have raised hackles in Brussels.
The government claims that the plan to remove unemployed migrants is compatible with EU rules, which state that labourers cannot "become a burden on the social services". The Dutch are the first to seek to enforce this to the letter, but Brussels is concerned other countries could follow suit.
Viviane Reding, the EU justice commissioner, said: "The Commission has a number of concerns about the proposed Dutch measures. All EU citizens must be treated equally, and there can be no discrimination based on nationality."
As the largest and most recent among waves of migrants, Polish citizens have borne the brunt of the bad feeling against newcomers. Many are drawn to Holland by work agencies offering agricultural and manual work, which, although low paid by Dutch standards, offers them a better wage than at home.
Krystyna Macion, 56, came to Holland from Opole, in southern Poland, to work as a flower grower. Now incapacitated and on benefits, having not worked for 18 months, she stands to be deported if Mr Kamp's plans become law. "I was eventually told by the job centre, 'You're old, stupid, and should go back to Poland.'"
As shocking as that may sound, it is a view shared by a growing minority on the country's once-liberal streets. "Some of them work hard, but a lot of them are a nuisance and should go home," said Filip, 71, a retired businessman. "They come here and work for a bit, and then who pays for them for the other six months they are out of work? Me, that's who."