A “habitual residence test” for migrant EU workers, presented by the European Commission on Monday (13 January), was meant to calm down the heated debate in Germany over “benefit tourism” from Bulgaria and Romania. But MPs from the ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) are not convinced. EurActiv.de reports.
The German government established a new committee in January to investigate the effects of so-called "poverty immigration" from Bulgaria and Romania, amid complaints from overburdened cities.
After Bulgaria and Romania’s EU accession on 1 January 2007, most EU countries lifted the restrictions to their labour markets to workers from these countries.
But restrictions remained in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and the UK.
These countries required Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have work permits before entering their territory.
According to the Bulgaria and Romania accession treaties, of 1 January 2014 those restrictions are entirely lifted everywhere in the Union.
"What more do we actually have to listen to from the EU?" asked CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer in response to calls from Brussels to assess migrant workers' eligibility for social benefits on a case-by-case basis.
On Monday (13 January), EU Commissioner for Social Affairs László Andor said Europe's immigration debate had been artificially inflated.
Speaking at a press conference, Andor presented a guide on application of ‘Habitual Residence Test’ for workers moving within the EU. While Andor said "EU rules to determine where a person is habitual resident are not new," he hopes the guide will provide clarity and more understanding on the legal situation.
The guide, Andor said, “will help member states to apply EU rules on the coordination of social security and to safeguard against abuse”.
But politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right CDU and CSU parties remain critical.
"Ultimately [the EU] just wants Germany to extend its social services to poor immigrants. Nothing else can be meant by calls for a case-by-case assessment. In doing this, the Commission is sending a fatal signal. It will only raise incentives for poverty immigration," Scheuer said.
Merkel's CDU party is also sceptical.
"If [the Commission's view] prevails, there will probably be a considerable influx in people coming to Germany solely for the Hartz-IV benefits", CDU faction leader Volker Kauder told Bild Newspaper. This was never the purpose of freedom of movement, the MP said.
"Once again, the European Commission does not seem to think through the effects of its positions," Kauder said.
Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) on the other hand welcomed the Commission's guide.
MEP Jutta Steinruck called it "a good help for authorities and all affected citizens" and criticised the position of her coalition partners from the CDU.
"Fishing for votes along the right-wing border" does not help solve the migration problem for immigrants or for the overburdened municipalities, Steinruck said.
Germany's Green Party, currently in opposition, calls on Merkel's coalition to take the "warning call from Brussels" seriously.
"We need to quickly come up with conditions by which those immigrants, who can prove they are in Germany to look for work, can receive support", said Bundestag representative Brigitte Pothmer and Volker Beck in a joint statement.
It is simply not true, Andor retorted, that Brussels was giving a boost to "social tourism".
At Monday’s press conference, he said the domestic political agenda had created an “over-emotional and misguided discussion in certain member states”.
A person is not automatically entitled to social benefits when they move to another member state unless they are working, the Hungarian Commissioner said.
The Commission's view, as it was explained by Andor, is that when an EU citizen is denied social welfare after the mandatory three months, there should be an individualised assessment to see where the person's habitual residence is.
The location of a person's habitual residence is crucial in determining whether they are entitled to claim social benefits in another EU member state. As a result, authorities in the member states must check every individual case based on pre-determined criteria which are listed explicitly in the guide, the social affairs Commissioner explained.
"Under EU law there can be only one habitual place of residence and so only one Member State responsible for paying residence-based social security benefits," Andor emphasised.
Criteria include family situation, housing situation, reasons for the move and the duration of presence in the affected member state.
Andor also stressed the many advantages to free movement of workers within the EU.
"Mobile workers complement host country workers by helping to address skills gaps and labour shortages", Andor said. They also do not overburden national social welfare systems because they are "more likely to be employed and so are generally net contributors to the welfare systems."