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'Bulgarian Fraud' Threatens the EU Welfare State?


There’s a scandal brewing in the Netherlands that could weaken support for the European welfare state. A well-organized crime ring in Bulgaria has been rounding up villagers and putting them on buses to Rotterdam. When they arrive there, they are sent to fill out welfare forms using forged rental contracts to prove that they have taken up residency. As soon as their claims are approved, they come back to Bulgaria and hand off the ‘account’ to their handlers, who then proceed to milk the Dutch welfare state for up to €8000 per person.

The FT reports that the scandal is still being used as a sign of administrative incompetence on the part of the Dutch government rather than a flaw in the country’s immigration policy. But that could soon change:

…while the Dutch press refers to the scandal as the “Bulgarian fraud”, most MPs have concentrated on their own government’s mistakes, with the nationalist overtones so far remaining in the background.

“The reaction has mainly been a rather cynical ‘What did you expect?’” said Mr Schnabel. “Next year Bulgarians are free to settle in the Netherlands, there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

Europeans have a mixed attitude at best towards immigration. Muslim and North African immigrants and refugees have had trouble integrating into European societies, with the resulting intercommunal tensions sometimes spilling over into street violence. Since 2010, both France and Italy have dismantled Roma camps, even expelling their inhabitants back to their home countries in the French case. This is in tension with the elites’ idea of a United States of Europe, where the population of any constituent nation-state is allowed to move and settle wherever they so choose on the continent.

Bulgaria and Romania are home to large Roma populations—estimated to be up to half a million in Bulgaria and 1.5 million in Romania —and these people tend to be much, much poorer and less well educated than those around them. And by reputation, the Roma are great travelers and, in stereotyped thinking that is so widespread as to be practically universal among West European average citizens, the Roma are thought to be habitual swindlers and grifters. Although there’s no evidence that the Bulgarian villagers in this case were Roma, it’s not too far a stretch to think that “Bulgarian fraud” is conjuring up images of thieving Roma in the popular Dutch imagination.

One likely consequence of this latest episode could be the scaling back of many welfare programs in some EU states. Between unpopular immigrants from predominantly Muslim states and a perceived mass movement of the Roma into the richer EU countries, public sympathy for the poor and the marginal is likely to diminish. Throw that together with budgetary problems, and the outlook is pretty clear.

[Impoverished Romanian Roma photo courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • Nick Ottens

    Actually, it is a stretch to “think that ‘Bulgarian fraud’ is conjuring up images of thieving Roma in the popular Dutch imagination.” There has been no Roma association — AT ALL — in the public debate. What’s at issue is fraud and questions about the responsible undersecretary’s knowledge about it, whether he couldn’t have acted earlier to put a stop to it, etc.

    There is some unease in the Netherlands, informed, perhaps, by a bit of prejudice, about Bulgaria and Romania entering the Schengen area next year, but that has less to do with ethnicity than a perception of these countries as hopelessly backward and corrupt.

    This has nothing to do with the Roma, however. Stereotypes are NOT universal among Western Europeans.

  • Atanu Maulik

    has shown that as long as people drawing welfare are from their own
    ethnic/racial group, the support for welfare remains high. But the
    backing for welfare states starts to wane as those on the dole are
    perceived to be mostly “others”. In that sense Europe’s love for welfare
    state has not really been tested. As Europe becomes more diverse and
    incidents like this proliferate (add to that continued economic
    distress) the continent’s support for generous welfare will be really
    put to test.

  • Corlyss Drinkard

    “where the population of any constituent nation-state is allowed to move and settle wherever they so choose on the continent.”
    Does anyone know of a good history of the EU’s formation, one that discusses the policy arguments and how they were resolved and why one option was picked over another. It seems inconceivable to me that the richer states didn’t contemplate and discuss the likelihood of mass migration from the back-alley states to the toney ones in search of better welfare benefits rather than a better job/life.

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