Why east German city Görlitz is courting Poles in Britain

Poles living in Britain may receive a surprise package in the post this Christmas of dried mushrooms, candied fruit and spice cake -- not from Santa, but someone with a less altruistic motive.

Why east German city Görlitz is courting Poles in Britain
Izabela Jucha, a Polish woman who used to live in the UK but whose daughter now goes to school in Görlitz. Photo: AFP/John MacDougall

The parcels of Polish and German delicacies are being sent by the city of Görlitz in Germany's former communist East, as part of efforts to attract Poles in Britain who are tempted to return to the continent because of Brexit.

Faced with labour shortages and an ageing population, the city on the border with Poland has been running a campaign over the past year aimed at the some 900,000 Poles currently living in the UK.

READ ALSO: Eastern German town of Görlitz named best filming location in Europe

Around 100,000 have already left since Britain's referendum on leaving the European Union in 2016.

The campaign has included adverts in British newspapers, a Facebook page and a website with an FAQ in three languages where Poles can find answers to questions such as “Can I transfer my company's headquarters,” “Will my health insurance cover me when I arrive in Görlitz,” and “Can I work in Görlitz without language skills?”

The city's reasonable rents, architectural gems and picturesque cobbled streets are also highlighted as selling points.

Archive photo shows summer tourists in Görlitz's picturesque old town. Photo: DPA
Bilingual classes

Görlitz is a home away from home for Poles, according to Andrea Behr, in charge of investment strategy for the city authorities and head of the project.

“If you go into a bakery, you might well be served by a Polish woman… If you go to nurseries or schools, you will find bilingual classes,” she said.

Some 4,000 of the city's 57,000 inhabitants are Polish, and many others commute across the border every day, drawn by the more generous salaries on the other side of the Neisse river.

Görlitz is just a short hop across the John Paul II road bridge from its Polish twin town of Zgorzelec.

Like most of the former communist East Germany, Görlitz has seen its population decline since German reunification.

The glitz and glamour of “Görliwood”, the city's nickname since blockbusters such as “The Grand Budapest Hotel” were filmed there, cannot disguise crumbling facades, boarded-up windows and derelict factories.

Last year, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party found itself in a position to conquer the town hall in Görlitz, with the traditional parties forming an awkward alliance to block it.

“On average, for every child that is born, two people die. In a few years' time, we will be facing a major labour shortage,” said Behr.

The shortage is already making itself felt. From research to blue-collar and manual trades, IT and the medical sector, jobs are not being filled due to a lack of candidates.

Last year, Görlitz's main hospital placed an advert in a major British daily newspaper urging Poles to consider returning home.

The hospital's management did not wish to comment on the advert.

German salaries

According to the mayor of Zgorzelec, Rafal Gronicz, “most of those leaving the UK will want to maintain the same standard of living and will certainly not return to Poland.”

A view of the Saints Peter and Paul Church (Peterskirche) on the banks of the river Neisse in the historical centre of Görlitz. Photo: AFP/John MacDougall

In Görlitz, “they can earn German wages and at the same time be closer to their families, to their country,” he said.

Izabela Jucha is one of those who have already made the move. After moving to the UK when Poland joined the EU in 2004, she now lives in the region with her husband and their daughter, who goes to school in Görlitz.

The family live on the Polish side but Jucha is learning German in the hope of developing her career in human resources in Görlitz, which “presents better economic opportunities”.

READ ALSO: A portrait of Görlitz, the city that could elect Germany's first AfD mayor

Brexit “marked a leap into the unknown… We didn't know if we were going to lose our jobs,” said the 30-year-old, who lived for 12 years in Northampton and Kettering, England, and then in Canada.

“The future of our 14-year-old daughter was a determining factor in our decision,” she said. “The education system here is very good, and free.”

It remains to be seen how successful the Görlitz campaign will be, especially since it was suspended for several months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Moving to a foreign country is not something that can be done overnight,” Behr said. “We must therefore take a long-term view.”

By Yannick Pascuet

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How roaming charges will hit travellers between the UK and EU in 2022

Trips between Europe and the UK and vice versa may well become more expensive for many travellers in 2022 as UK mobile operators bring back roaming charges. However there is some good news for all EU residents.

People look at their mobile phones.
How travellers between the EU and UK could be hit by roaming charges in 2022 (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP)

EU ‘roams like at home’ at least until 2032

First the good news. The European Union is set to decide to extend free roaming until 2032, so if you have your phone contract registered in an EU country you don’t have to worry about extra charges.

In addition to waiving the charges, the new regulation aims to ensure that travellers benefit of the same quality of service they have at home when travelling within the EU. If they have a 5G contract, for instance, they should also get 5G through the EU if possible. 

Under new rules, travellers should be given information about access to emergency services, including for people with disabilities.

Consumers should also be protected from prohibitive bills caused by inadvertent roaming on satellite networks when travelling on ferries or aeroplanes.

The final text of the new regulation was provisionally agreed in December. The European Parliament and Council will formally endorse it in the coming weeks.

UK companies reintroducing roaming charges this year

And now the bad news for travellers to the EU from the UK

Customers of UK mobile phone operators face higher fees when travelling in Europe this year, as some companies are bringing back roaming charges for calls, text messages and data downloaded during temporary stays in the EU.

This is one of the many consequences of the UK withdrawal from the European Union. Because of Brexit, the UK is no longer part of the EU’s “roam like at home” initiative which was designed to avoid shocking bills after holidays or business trips abroad.

The EU’s roaming regulation allows people travelling in the European Economic Area (EU countries plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) to make calls, send texts and browse the web using their regular plans at no extra cost. Switzerland is not part of the scheme, although some mobile phone providers offer roaming deals or special prices to cover travel in Switzerland.

Under EU rules, if the plan’s allowance is exceeded, the roaming fee is also capped at €0.032 per minute of voice call, €0.01 per SMS and €2.5 + VAT per gigabyte downloaded in 2022 (it was €3 + VAT in 2021). The wholesale price networks can charge each other is capped too.

The regulation was adopted for an initial period of five years and is due to expire on June 30th 2022. But the EU is preparing to extend it for another ten years. This time, however, the UK will not be covered. 

Which UK companies are reintroducing charges?

Three major UK network operators this year will reintroduce roaming charges for travels in the EU.

As of January 6th 2022, Vodafone UK will charge customers with monthly plans started after August 11th 2021 £2 per day to roam in the EU. The amount can be reduced to £1 per day by purchasing a pass for 8 or 15 days. Free roaming continues for earlier contracts, Data Xtra plans and for travels to Ireland.  

From March 3rd 2022, EE will also charge £2 per day to roam in 47 European locations, Ireland excluded. The new policy will apply to plans started from July 7th 2021. Alternatively, EE offers the Roam Abroad Pass, which allows roaming abroad for a month for £10. 

Another operator that announced a £2 daily fee to roam in the EEA, except for Ireland, is Three UK. The charge will apply from May 23rd 2022 for plans started or upgraded since October 1st 2021. The data allowance in monthly plans that can be used abroad is also capped at 12 gigabytes. 

O2 already introduced in August last year a 25-gigabyte cap (or less if the plan’s allowance is lower) to data that can be downloaded for free while travelling in Europe. Above that, customers are charged £3.50 per gigabyte. 

Other mobile operators said they have no intention to bring back roaming charges in the short term, but if won’t be surprising if they do so in the future. 

Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection Policy at UK consumer organisation Which? was disappointed at the changes and urged the UK and EU to “strike a deal on roaming charges” to stop companies “chipping away at the roaming benefits customers have become used to” and “prevent the return of the excessive charges people used to encounter.” 

By law, charges for mobile data used abroad remain capped at £45 per month and consumers can only continue data roaming only if they actively chose to keep spending. 

What about EU residents travelling to the UK?

In the EU, most mobile phone operators seem keen to continue free roaming for travels to the UK, but some have announced changes too.

In Sweden, Telenor aligned UK’s prices to those of non-EEA countries on May 1st 2021 while still allowing free roaming for some plans. 

Another Swedish operator, Telia, ended free roaming with the UK and Gibraltar on September 13th 2021 giving customers the option to access 200 megabytes of data for SEK 99 per day. People travelling to the UK can also buy a weekly pass allowing to make calls, send texts and download 1 GB of data. 

In Germany Telefónica Deutschland and 1 & 1 have extended current conditions for the UK until at least the end of 2022. However companies may keep other options open depending on negotiations with roaming partners. 

A1 Telekom Austria brought roaming charges back for the UK last June. Customers now have to pay €2.49 per minute for outgoing calls and €1.49 per minute for incoming calls if they are in the UK or Gibraltar. An SMS costs 99 cents and each 100 KB of data €1.49. 

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.