Often enough perception is reality. This is well understood in the relatively short-term business of the media and its symbiotic partner politics, where “after the elections is before the elections”.
2014 is an excellent year to observe how political and media opinion leaders are shaping public perception with very few means.
At midnight on January 1, the remaining barriers for free movement of labour for Romanians and Bulgarians were lifted. On the same day, droves of journalists in the UK and Germany were waiting at several airports to observe and report about the waves of migrant workers about to land with the first flights from Bucharest and Sofia.
In the same vein, politicians all over the EU have identified this as a topic that captures public sentiment and serves as one vehicle to draw attention to an otherwise dull European parliamentary election campaign.
Conspicuously missing is data that backs up some of the assertions that have been made. Today, the BBC were trying to change that. In their midday news show World at One earlier this afternoon, BBC Radio looked at a set of figures that the UK government releases on the labour market there. These figures give an estimate of the number of workers and their countries of origin for the period January-March 2014, and shed some light onto the change in the numbers of Romanian and Bulgarian job seekers coming to the UK after January. On the programme, Andreas Cser, the president of Tjobs, a Romanian startup that sources personnel and temporary workers for Western companies from Eastern Europe, helps interpret these numbers on the basis of some even more detailed numbers that his company has collected in the regular course of business.
Tjobs also announced that it has received financing from Earlybird and iEurope, two international Venture Capital firms. Together with the release, the company also published data not just for the UK but also for France, Germany and the Netherlands.
According to the Tjobs figures, in Q1 2014 the UK has seen an increase of 70% in job openings for Romanians and 100% more applicants vs. Q1 2013. Yet openings still outnumber applications by 1.6 to 1. Is reality a flood of cheap labor or a reaction of an efficient labor market that has seen unemplyment drop to a 5-year-low and 6.8%?
Germany, meanwhile, is the mirror image of the UK: the number of openings for Romanians has decreased by 42%, while the number of applicants has decreased by 22% since the start of 2014. Yet for each opening the Tjobs platform sees 1.74 applicants on average. Has Germany lost its attractiveness as a destination for Eastern Europeans? Despite being the economic powerhouse of Europe?
So much for perception vs. reality.