German economist denounces Roma ‘benefits tourism’


The migration of Roma to Germany has prompted one German economist to urge the EU to amend its Free Movement Directive ahead of a January 2014 deadline for lifting labour restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals.

Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute at the University of Munich, wrote recently that the migration of Roma will inevitably erode the German welfare state.

This position contradicts earlier statements by the European Commission, which said it had no evidence of so-called ‘benefit tourism’ from newer member states.

“The German Council of Municipalities has now sounded the alarm bell,” Sinn said in a recent commentary in the business weekly Wirtschaftswoche. “Many cities are no longer in control of the burgeoning social benefits for immigrants. The situation in some cities in the Ruhr area, which were already heavily burdened, is threatening to run out of control."

"These individuals are often Roma people – the same individuals who were driven out of France a few years ago by the then President Nicolas Sarkozy," he said.

Sinn, who is also an economics professor at Munich, cited the example of a 60-year-old Romanian who migrated to Germany. This person qualifies for state benefits at 65.

“On average, such individuals receive €382 of welfare benefit per month, €360 of accommodation and heating allowances, as well as free health insurance worth around €300 – or a total of €1,050 per month. This amount does not include benefits in kind for a refrigerator and a washing machine. Such an income is almost two to three times as high as the average wage in Romania or Bulgaria – regardless of whether the person benefitting from it has previously paid any contributions or taxes in Germany.

“This type of migration will inevitably erode the German welfare state, because the latter does have money to support it on the one hand, and because the Länder [German states] will try to make themselves less attractive to poverty-stricken migrants on the other. The EU idea of inclusion of the needy according to the country of residence principle is not compatible with the continued existence of the old-style welfare state,” Sinn wrote.

In the same piece, the author recognises that the German economy needs more migrant labour and writes that many immigrants, and especially those from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia, are well qualified and willing to integrate.

Singling out Roma migration as the problem to be tackled, the German scholar calls for changing the EU Free Movement Directive in a way which would allow a EU citizens living in another country of the Union to claim social benefits from his home country administration.

“If we had the home country principle in the EU, then poverty-driven migration in the welfare state would not occur. It is high time to amend the EU Free Movement Directive,” he wrote.

Workers from Bulgaria and Romania currently enjoy full rights to free movement pursuant to EU law in Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Czech Republic.

Restrictions remain in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and the UK. They typically require Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have a work permit.

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