As 2014 dawns, two stories look set to dominate the British headlines throughout the year. Firstly, with the 1st January 2014 expiration of the 2007 agreement restricting the right of Bulgarians and Romanians to work in the UK, Britons are braced for an influx of people from those countries.
Or so the media would have us believe. Indeed, concern reached such a point that in December Prime Minister David Cameron acted, excluding all new arrivals from benefits for three months, and prompting an outraged response from Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, who warned about the damage such steps would do to Britain’s international reputation.
The second story should be more light-hearted, but history teaches us that it will not be so. This summer the FIFA World Cup arrives in Brazil and Roy Hodgson’s men have qualified, so we can look forward to months of fevered speculation, followed by a fortnight of scraping through to the knock-out stage, where they will be promptly eliminated on penalties.
How will it turn out? Will the UK be overwhelmed by unwashed gypsies and benefit tourists? Will penalties prove the scourge of the national football team yet again? We take the opportunity to compare the UK to Bulgaria in our own penalty shoot-out – if you were a Bulgarian looking for health, wealth and happiness, would you stay at home or would you head for the airport and the green fields of Britain?
Round One: Health
Above all else we need our health. Without that we have nothing. And it seems as though the much vaunted National Health Service does pay off in the UK: Britons can expect to live on average until their 81st birthday, while Bulgarians in contrast have an average life expectancy of just 74. The ball is firmly in the back of the net for the UK in the first round.
Round Two: Economy and jobs
The popular image is of desperately poor Bulgarians flooding into the UK, at best looking to steal jobs, at worst simply to stand in dole queues collecting easy money. Yet, for a young Bulgarian looking to start a career and earn money there are many more opportunities in Bulgaria than the UK.
At the broader level you have only to consider the relative economies: while the UK government struggles to bring state spending under control the Bulgarian government runs an annual budget surplus of around 3% and at 16.2% it has the second lowest level of public debt in the EU. Furthermore, while UK GDP growth languishes at around 1%, Bulgarian GDP is growing at 5% a year and has done for most of the past decade.
At a more individual level you can look to companies like 60K. Founded just five years ago it has grown at an astonishing rate delivering high quality customer service to UK consumers on behalf of companies like Thomas Cook and Seatwave. It now employs more than 600 people in its Sofia head office – many of them recent graduates with excellent IT skills and more than 30 languages between them.
Britons like to feel they are still a global power, but the economic reality is that the world has changed. For a young person in 2014 wanting to make good money emerging economies such as Bulgaria are a better option than fading empires such as the UK.
Round Three: Culture
Bulgarians can boast a longer cultural tradition. Indeed, back in 5000BC while early Britons were still scratching around in peat bogs, Bulgaria was home to a sophisticated civilisation that produced some of the world’s first jewellery and pottery.
Yet, more recent history has been kinder to the UK, and today there are few countries on earth that can rival the UK’s literary, artistic, and sporting credentials. Sofia is a beautiful city but London is one of the world’s great cities with theatres, museums, and shops that attract millions of visitors every year.
Equally, the inventor of the world first computer may have been Bulgarian (the little known Professor John Vincent Atanassoff working at Iowa State University between 1939 and 1942) but that claim pales in comparison to the inventors of the locomotive, vaccination, electricity, and the Internet (Stephenson, Jenner, Faraday and Berners-Lee).
Round Four: Cost of living
While economic statistics matter, what matters most is how rich we all feel. What does my Leva buy compared to your Pound?
Bulgarians might get paid less than their counterparts in the UK. However they need to give much less away in the form of taxes: they enjoy the lowest rates of personal and corporate tax of any EU citizens: a flat 10%. What is more, visitors from the UK to Bulgaria are frequently astonished at how little it costs to live in this country.
With a meal in an inexpensive restaurant costing around 4 euros, a bottle of mid-range wine 4 euros and a month’s rent in a one-bedroom city centre apartment just over 200 euros, Bulgaria is the 80th most expensive place in the world to live according to the Consumer Price Index.
With a meal in a restaurant costing almost 12 euros, a mid-range bottle of wine just over 7 euros, and a month’s rent in a one-bedroom city centre apartment 776 euros, the UK is the 18th most expensive place in the world to live according to the Consumer Price Index.
The UK is a great place to live if you have the money, but for Bulgarians weighing up their options, when it comes to spending power the only choice is to stay at home.
Round Five: Climate
In July and August the temperature in Bulgaria averages 28 degrees and Bulgarians head to the Black Sea beach resorts of Varna and Burgas, while in winter snowfall on the Vitosha mountain range means that skiing is within an hour’s drive of the residents of Sofia.
The UK on the other hand is famous for its rainfall. It makes for a green and beautiful land, but it also means many summer days are spent watching rain drip down a window pane. The deciding shot goes the way of Bulgaria!
Indeed, at 60K not only do we employ hundreds of Bulgarians for whom the idea of moving away from their families to a damp country where they have little money is unappealing, but increasingly we are hiring visitors from other EU countries. They have seen the great lifestyle we enjoy here in Bulgaria and they want to experience it for themselves.
There is of course much to attract people to the UK, and while there will be no flood of benefit tourists, we can expect many Bulgarians to look to visit, find work, and even settle in the UK. We hope they will also be able to enjoy a good England performance in the World Cup!