The German government tabled a final report on Wednesday (27 August) addressing “legal issues and challenges” related to social benefits claims by EU immigrants, with Bavarian conservatives welcoming the “correct approach” and Social Democrats shaking their heads at the new measure. EURACTIV Germany reports.
“Freedom of movement is an essential part of European integration to which we are fully committed. But at the same time we must not turn a blind eye to the problems it creates,” said German Internal Affairs Minister Thomas de Maizière on Wednesday (27 August).
Together with Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Andrea Nahles, de Maizière presented a new government report on the influx of EU immigrants claiming Germany’s social benefits.
The final document titled “Legal issues and challenges in the field of social security claims by nationals of the EU Member States” follows an interim version of the report tabled in March by a State Secretaries Committee of the same name. This week, the federal government finally approved the document, along with a draft law to combat abuse of Germany’s social system.
The committee’s report indicates that immigration from other EU member states to Germany has steadily increased in recent years.
Because certain municipalities are especially hard hit by so-called “poverty migration” the measure includes plans to provide these with compensation before the end of the year. The report also says that abuses of freedom of movement should be addressed more seriously.
“A great many municipalities require our support to overcome the challenges brought on by growing immigration from other EU member states”, Nahles explained.
“For this reason, the State Secretaries Committee focused particularly on their specific situation and negotiated a number of financial relief plans: Already in March we promised €200 million to the affected municipalities,” Nahles pointed out. “In addition we have now pledged another €25 million, by upgrading federal contribution to residential costs under the Social Code II.”
“With the final report tabled today, we have provided an important contribution toward pinning the discussion down with facts. With the corresponding law we have taken the right steps against abuses of the freedom of movement and toward relieving the municipalities,” de Maizière said.
The report and draft law include a whole row of measures meant to combat such abuses. The two are meant to implement temporary restrictions on re-entry following legal abuse or fraud, they limit the right to reside in Germany while seeking work and make it punishable by law to possess residence permits obtained by fraudulent means.
Regarding family services and the child benefit, the new measures are intended to mitigate double payments and abuse.
“The final report and the changes to the Freedom of Movement Law reaffirm the correctness of our approaches”, said internal and legal policy spokesman Michael Frieser and labour market policy spokesman for the conservative Christian Social Union’s (CSU) national committee in the Bundestag Stephan Stracke.
“A strict approach against legal abuse ensures advantages for all law-abiding citizens,” Frieser and Stracke said in a joint statement, “Temporary re-entry restrictions will be instrumental in combating legal abuse and fraud. The possession of residence permits by falsifying information will be punishable by law. Double payments of the child benefit will be prevented by the allotment of individual identification numbers.”
But MEP from the Social Democratic Party Birgit Sippel was disappointed, saying not much in the report is new.
“The numbers show problems are prevalent in a select few cities. We have known that for a while. But the vast majority of immigrants come to work or study.” The report also does not produce any concrete numbers related to actual cases of fraud, Sippel pointed out.
“It suggests that the CSU may have been completely mistaken. The supposedly ‘fraudulent Eastern Europeans’ never come up in the report. Such cracker-barrel rhetoric is pure populism,” Sippel remarked.
In the few cases where fraud may be taking place, Sippel contended, existing regulations already provide sufficient protection.
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.
Denmark, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Czech Republic did not fear the influx of workers from the two EU newcomers.
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.