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German politician demands severe changes to benefits available to EU-foreigners

A senior politician has proposed cuts for EU-foreigners in Germany's benefits system. The suggestion came as the UK made the issue of EU-foreigners claiming benefit the main topic in the debate over its future in the EU.

Olaf Scholz

, the mayor of Germany's city-state of Hamburg, said that there should be further limits to EU citizens receiving benefits in Germany. Scholz suggested that people coming to Germany under the EU principle of freedom of movement should only qualify for social benefits after 12 months of living and working in Germany.

"Freedom of movement does not imply that you can choose from where you would like to receive your social benefits," Scholz said in a press statement.

"No one would want to encourage migration on account of improved social benefits elsewhere," he added.

Scholz's timing coincides with UK debate on EU membership

His call for changes in Germany's benefit system comes amid ongoing debates about

the UK's future in the European Union,

which will be up to a plebiscite in 2017.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that he would only speak in support of the

UK to remain in the EU

if, among other conditions, EU-foreigners in the UK would only be granted access to social benefits after four years of residing there.

Growing support for new guidelines

Olaf Scholz's position differs greatly from the general viewpoint represented by the broad base of his party, the SPD (Socialdemocratic Party of Germany), which is part of a grand coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU (Christian Democratic Union) in the lower chamber of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag.

David Cameron

UK Prime Minister Cameron demands even more severe cuts to EU-foreigners' access to benefits in order to avoid a "Brexit."

Scholz, who is also one of the SPD's vice presidents, said that the European Court of Justice had issued several rulings, which would allow Germany to adopt his suggested limit of 12 months, adding that German law only needed to follow European case law.

Scholz didn't specify the cases he was referring to, implying they were issued to other EU-member states. Under EU-law, rulings which are valid for one member state with regards to human rights are also applicable to other EU states.

A growing number of SPD politicians have come out recently in favor of setting limits to access to benefits made available to foreigners from within the EU. Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Andrea Nahles also argued in favor of introducing certain caps on access to welfare programs when it comes to non-German EU citizens. Nahles had told reporters that there was an "obvious call for action" to change laws regarding the divisive issue.

Germany's complicated benefit maze

In December 2015, Germany's Federal Social Court had ruled that EU-foreigners would only

acquire the right of being entitled to social benefits

after living in the country for at least six months.

Germany's basic social benefit system for the unemployed, called "Hartz IV," provides qualifying benefit claimants, who are single and live alone, with roughly 400 euros ($435) monthly while also granting other benefits, such as access to healthcare and entitlement to housing benefit.

Recent EU-arrivals in Germany, who have never worked in the country, do not qualify for "Hartz IV" welfare but are entitled to another set of social benefits if they can prove that they have no other means available. However, these benefits only start after an initial waiting period of six months.

While regional and central government are in charge of the funding for "Hartz IV" benefits, local governments have to pick up the tab for most other social benefits. These differences in Germany's benefit system have long caused friction between the local, regional and federal governments.

ss/jil (Reuters, AFP, epd)

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