The Bavaria-based party in Germany's new broad coalition government has denied slandering EU migrants from Romania and Bulgaria. The Catholic charity Caritas has accused the party of resorting to right-wing populism.
A senior politician with the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU), Gerda Hasselfeldt, (pictured) on Thursday rejected complaints against her party over its slogan "those who commit fraud will be [kicked] out" - a claim that migrant workers could exploit social welfare.
Under European Union law, Bulgarians and Romanians gained access to the EU's free-movement labor market on January 1. Conservative parties in France and Britain have also warned that unqualified workers could try to collect welfare payments. These claims have been widely challenged by center-left parties.
Caritas federation president, Peter Neher, a guest invited to the CSU's traditional winter conference at the alpine resort of Wildbad Kreuth, said the party's slogan was "unacceptable."
Reducing the topic of migrant labor to such a cliché amounted to "populism and bore the risk of provoking prejudices," Neher told the national newspaper Die Welt on Tuesday, adding that this led to a failure to help those in need.
Statistics from 2012 showed that 80 percent of Bulgarians and Romanians already living in Germany were gainfully employed.
All EU citizens were entitled to labor market access and Caritas was striving especially for the integration of minority Roma families, Neher added.
CSU rejects populist label
Hasselfeldt, who heads the CSU parliamentary group in Bundestag parliament, speaking at the start of the Wildbach Kreuth conference on Tuesday, rejected the criticism.
The slogan corresponded with majority public opinion in Germany, she said. "I don't know of any reason why we shouldn't adhere to it."
The new labor minister in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition cabinet, Andrea Nahles of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said Tuesday that some of Germany's municipalities had long-standing migrant-related problems.
But the answer, Nahles said, lay in discussing the matter rationally. Unemployment benefits, she added, only became available to those who had spent a certain period of time in Germany.
Last Thursday, the German foreign minister and senior Social Democrat, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said calls to restrict free labor movement within the EU "damages Europe and damages Germany." The debate is becoming the new grand coalition government's first public policy disagreement, an issue Merkel sought to soothe last week.
The European Union's commissioner for employment and social affairs Laszio Andor said on Tuesday that the debate was "exaggerated."
In the next few weeks EU citizens would realize that there is "no flood of Romanian and Bulgarian migrant workers into [other] European member nations which had just opened their labor markets to both these countries," Andor said.
According to Germany's Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research in mid-2013 only 0.6 percent of unemployment benefit recipients in Germany originated from Bulgaria and Romania.
Although their qualification levels were lower, their jobless rate was also lower than the average among Germany's population and significantly lower than than those of other migrant groups, it said.
ipj/pfd (dpa, KNA, AFP)