EU Unity? Not for Jobs

Ian Duncan Smith,Labor and Pension Secretrary, complains that jobs created are being swallowed up by immigrants

Amiel Ungar , | updated: 8:18 AM

Ian Duncan Smith
Ian Duncan Smith

The European Union is being buffeted as never before by the current economic crisis.

The presumed solidarity (which in the past has degenerated into every man for himself, such as during the oil embargo following the Yom Kippur War) between the member countries was the first to go.

Then came the issue of open borders, when some countries faced a flood of immigrants from the crisis torn North African and Middle Eastern countries and pressed for renewed restrictions.

The speech by British Work and Pensions secretary Ian Duncan Smith heralds that the next major issue may be the free movement of labor within Europe.

The idea of the free movement of capital and labor throughout the EU was part of European integration and in times of prosperity it made economic sense. Workers would be free to move to where labor shortages existed from areas with pockets of unemployment.

Such migrations are natural within countries, for example the movement of workers from southern to northern Italy or from Eastern Germany to Western Germany . The United States experienced movement first from the South to the North and then subsequently in the opposite direction.

During the current economic crisis, immigrants are moving to countries already facing severe unemployment problems and compete with the native born for jobs. This is a problem for Britain. Duncan Smith is complaining that the coalition's programs to get millions off benefits and into jobs are being undermined by immigrant employment.

While everybody is united over the idea that skilled immigrants should be welcomed into Britain, many of the presumed skilled immigrants are taking low skilled jobs that should be taken by British school dropouts

"As we work hard to break welfare dependency and get young people ready for the labour market, we need businesses to play their part and give them a chance - and not just fall back on labour from abroad," Duncan Smith asserted.

British business leaders reply that foreigners offer better skills, are cheaper than British youth who frequently lack reading, writing and communication skills and suffer from a low work ethic. David Frost, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce who made the reply to Duncan Smith noted:

"There's a stream of highly able eastern European migrants who are able to take those jobs and that's why they're taking them on.

"They are skilled, they speak good English and, more importantly, they want to work."

While it may be surprising that Eastern European workers could surpass native Britons in English language skills, people who have encountered students from smaller European countries appreciate the foreign language skills of the population. The young know that texts in their own language only go so far, so they are serious about foreign languages and particularly English.

Some argue that it is not EU immigrants but those from countries outside the European Union who account for the problem mentioned by Duncan Smith. However, as mentioned by Mr. Frost, the immigrant groups making the major impact are Eastern Europeans.

This is not the case only for Britain. According to figures released from the Polish Embassy in Holland, in 2007 there were 20,000 Poles there, now that number stands at over 200,000. Even in Iceland there are already 10,000 Poles.

As Poland assumed the EU presidency, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk lashed out at those paying lip service to the European unity idea who were now seeking to impose travel restrictions.