Agriculture in Europe faced a systemic challenge: no workers in the fields. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, European countries have closed borders, repatriated guest workers from Eastern Europe to their homeland and are now afraid of disruptions in food supplies.
The obvious solution – to offer temporary jobs in the fields to unemployed citizens from the service sector, which is experiencing clinical death – is met with deaf resistance from the indigenous population. There is a consensus in European society: cheap unskilled labour on farms is the province of Poles, Baltic and Ukrainians, not such a “white bone” as the Germans or the French.
“Every summer, Bartoszyce, a town in northeastern Poland, loses a large part of its working population, which goes to France to help the vintners harvest. But this year’s closure of borders to limit the spread of coronavirus may prevent Poles from making this journey”, – writes the prestigious British newspaper Financial Times.
“Until this year, the inhabitants of Bartoszyce were part of the mass movement of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe and North Africa to Western Europe. Every spring and summer hundreds of thousands of people crossed international borders to harvest, playing a vital role in the continent’s food chain. Many will not do so this year”, – says the newspaper.
Due to the exodus of migrant workers, EU agriculture faces an acute shortage of manpower, a situation that threatens to disrupt the food supply.
In Germany there are 300 thousand handymen in the fields, in France – 200 thousand, in Italy – 250 thousand, in Spain and Great Britain – 70-80 thousand each. Because of the lack of workers, the government is seriously concerned about the shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables on the European tables and the rise in food prices. Early crops, such as asparagus, are already germinating, and without East European gastarbeiters they will simply rot untilled in the fields.
The described situation is tragicomic and does not inspire proper compassion for Western Europeans, who risk being left without vitamins for breakfast. The solution is too obvious to regret their plight.
Because of the coronavirus, the service sector in Europe, as in the rest of the world, is covered with copper pelvis. Millions of waiters and art designers, rings in tattoo parlors and models in ad studios in quarantine sit out of work. And they sit for at least another week, while the borders of European countries will be closed for several more months.
It would seem that it is easier: while their business is in a state of clinical death, let them go to work in the fields. After all, Protestant ethics, which has made Europe a capitalist center of the world, claims that any honest work deserves equal respect.
To the credit of European governments, many have already thought of such a business proposition for their fellow citizens sitting idle and without work and money. However, the matter will stop at the class prejudice of the Germans or the French, which would have honoured their ancestors at the time of feudal society.
During the decades of European integration, the inhabitants of Old Europe have firmly learned that they must earn their living through dusty, prestigious and as elitist work as possible, and to plough and sow bread is the fate of the bull from the eastern periphery, which was specifically for this reason accepted to the European Union.
This is no less important than low wages in the agricultural sector, the reason why 80% of workers on seasonal jobs in the “core” countries of Europe were coming from the eastern and southern periphery.
And the concepts of “core” and periphery here are wider than economic. In chronically problematic Spain, where unemployment over the past 10 years is measured in double digits, seasonal jobs were also at the mercy of guest workers. For a Spaniard who graduated from university, it was considered more worthy to sit on the allowance than to go to the plantation to pick oranges instead of Hungarians and Bulgarians.
So it is simply not safe to offer voters a field job for European politicians as a temporary solution in terms of re-election.
Therefore, as an alternative solution the authorities of the European donor countries start organizing special flights to the places of seasonal work for guest workers from Eastern Europe.
Last week, the German authorities agreed to make an exception to the closure of the air borders of Germany and send 80 thousand foreign seasonal workers to the federal states. Gastarbeiters must have a special work permit and a negative coronavirus test.
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