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Saturday, August 21, 2010

France and Romania

Yesterday the first groups of Romanies expelled from France have arrived in Bucharest.

Curious about the background, I looked at the dynamics of economic performance in the two countries. Specifically, I plotted their GNI/cap, estimated with at purchasing power parity, using public-domain data gathered by the World Bank, transformed into percentages of the world mean in the given year. Here is a quick graph depicting the results.

Two interesting things stand out.

First, Romania--like most post-state-socialist states--had a significant drop in economic performance, hence living standards, after the regime change: From just above 110 percent of the world mean, it dropped to 89% and even deeper, to 84% of the world average (in 1993 and 2000, respecctively). Since then, Romania has had an economic recovery of sorts, so that its GNI/cap reached 120% of the world average by 2008 (the most recent data point included in the IBRD dataset).

As for France, second, it had a very slow growth from 356% to 380% of the world mean GNI/cap between 1989 and 2002. Since then, it has been on a rather steep decline (it stood at 322% of the world average in 2008), a drop of almost 60% of the world mean GNI/cap in 6 years. That ought to have hurt.

Of course, contrary to simple "push-pull" theories, it is by now quite a commonplace observation of sociological work on migration that migration patterns and regulations never mechanically reproduce the dynamics of economic performance. There is always a delay and, much more important, there is a need for a penetration by the wealthier, would-be migrant-importer society into the structures of the poorer, labor-exporter-to-be. This creates the formal and informal institutions, as well as regulatory frameworks, through which migrant flows would materialize.

The case of Romania and its membership in the European Union, surging foreign direct investment, changing regulations for travel (i.e., the supposedly universal "right to free movement within the EU"), coupled with its absence from the common immigration management system (called "Schengen-land"), make it possible for the French state to flex its muscles and repatriate some of the Romanies of Romania.

An excellent question--potentially revealing a great deal about the nature of the French state and society, not to mention the meta-state called the European Union--is this: Why only the Romanies are subjected to this expulsion procedure? Why not the non-Romani (ethnic Romanian, Magyar, German, etc., citizens of Romania) who are also present in the EU, and very much in France, as migrant labor? What does this choice reveal about the nature of modern European statehood and power?

It is also an interesting footnote to this scandal that it is instigated by the current President of France, himself offspring of two families of immigrants, one side from Greece, the other from Hungary. (Apparently, his father, a Hungarian nobleman, arrived in France at the end of world war II, and did not apply for French citizenship until 1970.)

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cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta