Travelling on business this week, I have spent a couple of days in Bucharest. Most of today will be spent, tediously, making my way back to Moscow. It was interesting to talk to Romanian colleagues yesterday about attitudes to the EU. Generally, Romanians are in favour of joining, but apparently there is some reserve. People are concerned about what it means for their society and culture. They are concerned about being a small, relatively poor member of a club run by (and they assume for) the large nations.
They are also a little hurt about the British decision to derogate from the "free movement of labour" provisions of the Treaty of Rome in relation to Romania and Bulgaria when they are first admitted. "You have admitted hundreds of thousands of Poles," one commented, "but Romanians are not acceptable?"
I found it hard to put a case for what the Government is doing. It continues to admit, with no apparent restriction, non-EU immigrants from Muslim countries. These are people who are consistently shown by opinion polls to have aspirations inimical to our culture. Any Romanians who come to Britain as EU citizens will not be looking to import Romanian Law or impose Romanian culture.
We continue to welcome people who despise our culture and our way of life and want to impose their own. They make no effort to fit in, and we make no effort to assimilate them. Yet it never seems to occur to us that the citizens of the recently acceded and soon-to-accede EU states could solve all our labour shortages without posing any threat to our way of life. Most would anyway want to return to their own homes and families - and to their own language and culture - in time.
Already lots of citizens of northern Europe are looking to the New Europe for retirement homes. It sometimes seems the main impact of the EU will be to divide peoples' lives between production in the North and retirement in the South. Is it fair to expect freely to buy a retirement villa in Bulgaria or run a business in Romania, while preventing Romanians and Bulgarians from getting jobs in Britain?
I have seen big changes in Bucharest since I was last here. Everywhere there are signs of gradually-growing prosperity. Yet the image the British seem to have of Romanians remains that of the old lady I snapped on the street this morning. That's sad.