When the Dutch Minister for Social Affairs and Employment, Henk Kamp, presented a “robust package of measures” on economic migration from Eastern Europe, I couldn’t help thinking of one professional group which seems to escape any control: Romanian women traffickers. I often come across bald-headed, tatoo and gold-jewelry sporting specimens of this particular mafia in the cities of the western Netherlands. And as they shamelessly shout into their mobile phones, I am also party to their conversations. Typically, they say things like: “Tell Gica that he’d better come through with the money tonight, or I’ll get rid of him and I’ll get rid of the girls too!” Or: “Gigi, come by with the guys, because I have a new shipment of...” — I will refrain from mentioning the Romanian word for female genitalia.

It is very discouraging to see this scum on parade. Considered in this context, some of the measures to control economic migration appear to be grandstanding. The package will directly affect honest seasonal workers from Romania and Bulgaria, who do an excellent and entirely legal job that is much to the satisfaction of the Dutch fruit growers who employ them. The pimps who are hard to tackle will continue to benefit from plenty of elbow room, while the strawberry pickers are victimised.

However, Henk Kamp’s hard line is certainly understandable. The considerable problems occasioned by unemployed Eastern Europeans and the prospect of waves migrants who would be entitled to welfare benefits will not resolve themselves. Of course, the Minister for Social Affairs and Employment realises that economic migration is here to stay, and his “package of measures” pays particular attention to proper living and working conditions — it really does aim to eradicate modern forms of slavery. But at the same time, Henk Kamp seems to believe that the VVD [the Prime Minister’s political party] election promise — to ensure that migrants are only entitled to welfare benefits after ten years — is unworkable.

The truth is that this is not an easy message to sell. Stef Blok and Klaas Dijkhoff, who are both members of the VVD, sparked an uproar when they published a call to restrict the authority of the European Court of Human rights (which had invalidated stricter asylum legislation). It goes without saying that human rights derive their power from the fact they are universal. But Stef Blok and Klaas Dijkhoff did have a point when they argued that the judges should take into account the context that is addressed by political decisions.

European legal experts have no difficulty with the idea of rewriting EU asylum policy in response to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights, but judge it to be unacceptable if it is prompted by new migration trends. Obviously, it is normal to view migrant workers as victims of Western authorities. Protecting individuals against the arbitrariness of government is a constitutional and humane duty. But how can we expect to maintain a balance if we do not pay attention to the objective context? Because the issue of moral protection is problematised by the existence of groups of migrants who are averse to cultural ties and social responsibility, who move from one country to another to obtain welfare benefits and have no qualms about illegality and crime.

Not only does this place a heavy burden on the welfare state, but it also has an impact on social relations within individual countries. Every society is subject to tensions, and these need to be acknowledged. So it is perfectly legitimate for Stef Blok and Klaas Dijkhoff to question European norms, and for Henk Kamp to call for strict and realistic agreements on economic migration within the EU.