Germany coalition squabbles over Romanians, Bulgarians

Germany coalition squabbles over Romanians, Bulgarians

Germany coalition squabbles over Romanians, Bulgarians

Germany's Labour Minister Andrea Nahles and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (R). REUTERS Photo

Germany’s governing coalition is squabbling over calls to restrict welfare payments to European immigrants as the continent’s labor markets open to Romanians and Bulgarians, sparking a debate across the bloc.

The conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), one of three governing parties, suggested other European Union nationals should be ineligible for social security for their first three months in Germany and welfare cheats should be expelled to combat “poverty migration.” The CSU issued a statement on Dec. 29, saying: “For Germany we must develop a range of measures to protect our welfare system against abuses. The acceptance of European freedom of movement is threatened by abusive migration targeting the welfare system – but not by justified defensive measures against abuses.”

Labor-market restrictions across the EU for people from Romania and Bulgaria, two of its newest members, ended Jan. 1, fueling fears, particularly in Britain, of an influx of unemployed migrants. The European Commission said no major increase in emigration is expected. Bucharest and Sofia also dismissed the fears, saying their countrymen were not planning an exodus en masse.

In Sofia, President Rosen Plevneliev asserted in his New Year’s Eve speech that Bulgarians “would like to have a worthy job” at home, and “not to buy a one-way ticket and leave Bulgaria.”

Germany’s center-left foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told yesterday’s edition of the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung freedom of movement for workers was “an essential part of European integration.” Questioning that principle damages Germany and Europe, he added. Steinmeier called rights to move freely between EU countries an “indispensable part of European integration,” from which Germany “has surely profited much more than others.”

“The CSU has not understood Europe. And evidently it doesn’t even want to,” the Foreign Ministry’s special representative for European affairs, Social Democratic Party (SDP) politician Michael Roth, also told the daily, according to Deusche Welle. Roth said this became apparent during the lengthy coalition negotiations after September 2013’s election before the rival groups agreed to govern together. “The CSU doesn’t even grasp the facts of the issue,” Roth said, saying the Social Democrats were “ready to offer concrete help” if “real problems” on the issue of migration emerged.

Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer, speaking to daily Bild, described the criticisms from the Social Democrats as “absurd.” He also said the new German coalition had agreed to send home any EU migrants found to have claimed state welfare during their 90-day period seeking work. Seehofer’s party ally, Markus Ferber, the CSU’s chairman at the European Parliament, said this agreement complied with EU laws.

And SPD deputy leader and the government’s integration minister, Aydan Özoğuz, warned the CSU not to “incite the mood in our society against the poor with false generalizations.”

“Those who act as if all people from Bulgaria and Romania were poor and queuing up here for benefits aren’t recognizing the many highly qualified people working here for example as doctors or care-givers,” she said in a statement on Dec. 29, 2013.

Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007. Since then, 17 EU countries including Italy and Sweden have lifted restrictions on their work markets. Analysts believe therefore that Bulgarians and Romanians who are looking to work elsewhere would already have done so, rather than wait until yesterday, when the nine remaining EU countries, Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain, lift restrictions. Nevertheless, the move was watched with trepidation in Britain, where hundreds of thousands migrants have made their home since the EU expanded into Eastern Europe in 2004. The Labour government in power at the time vastly underestimated the number who would come and admitted it should have done more to limit the influx.

Members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party pressed up until the last moment for restrictions to be extended but party chairman Grant Shapps said Britain had done all it can “within the law” by already extending the restrictions by two years.