Romania’s image has taken a battering in the British press and our survey found it the EU country Britons would least like to live in. Carole Cadwalladr returns to Bucharest after 20 years to find a city transformed.
So, the good news, I tell the first Romanian I interview, is that a British newspaper wants to print a story about Romania that isn’t about immigrants stealing their jobs or Gypsy beggars getting their teeth fixed free on the NHS. And the bad news, he asks? I pause. That, according to the Observer’s survey, most Brits believe that Romanians come to Britain to steal our jobs and get their teeth fixed on the NHS.
In fact, the survey doesn’t say that, exactly, but it’s not far off. It says that of all the countries in Europe in which we would least like to live, the very worst place – cited by a massive 25% of all respondents, leaps and bounds ahead of anywhere else – is Romania. That as a nation, we believe Romanians are “aggressive” and “lazy”. That hardly any of us have actually been there (fewer than 1% in the last five years). And a massive 58% of us believe that Romania is one of the five EU nations that has sent the most migrants to the UK.
Which may give some clue as to what’s going on here. Because it turns out that not only do we know hardly anything about Romania but what we do know isn’t even true. In fact, there are fewer than 100,000 Romanians in Britain. (Compared with nearly 700,000 Poles, for example). Figures from 2014 show that fewer than 2,500 of them claimed benefits here. They are overwhelmingly net contributors to the British economy.