Rebecca Harms, Member of the European Parliament for the Green party, says freedom of movement benefits all EU citizens, and describes fears expressed by Germany's conservative CSU party as alarmist.
DW: What is the significance of the freedom of movement of workers for Europe?
Rebecca Harms: It's a fundamental principle on which the European Union is based: Citizens of member states should be able to work in all states of the EU. The freedom of movement of workers means that living standards can also improve for citizens of the poorer countries.
Is the debate about so-called "poverty immigration" a specifically German debate?
The debate in this country is clearly being whipped up by party-political interests. Exaggerating the threat of problems arising from the freedom of movement of workers is undermining the experience that it benefits all EU citizens.
Can fears that the welfare system will be abused be explained by the fact that the welfare net here is particularly strong?
Germany's welfare system certainly works better than those in Romania or Bulgaria, but it's by no means the only one in the EU that works well. Abuse can take place anywhere, and of course it's never simply tolerated. But it's completely wrong to single out two countries for power-political reasons and accuse them en masse of intending to abuse the system. Quite apart from this, and contrary to what the CSU is now suggesting, it's not that easy to gain welfare benefits fraudulently.
Have the German government, the federation, states and local authorities, neglected to address the issue earlier?
Some local authorities, in the [western German]Ruhr region, for example, have already been addressing these questions for a long time - questions like: What are the expectations of people who migrate to our town? What advice do they need? What EU funding is available to promote these facilities? They've been conducting systematic discussions on how integration can work, how apartments can be made available. It appears, though, that neither the federal republic nor the individual states - Bavaria in particular - have prepared themselves. Winning votes by scaremongering is obviously more important to them than doing good work.
Do you think there have been failures at the EU level?
We have to do more to combat poverty, and we have to increase the pressure in order to improve the prospects of minorities and living conditions overall in member states like Romania and Bulgaria. Poor social circumstances like these are the root of poverty immigration. I know very few people who leave their homeland and their family for no good reason.
The CSU, led by Horst Seehofer, sparked a heated debate with their slogan "Cheats will be thrown out"
How do you see the discussion developing, with a view to the upcoming European elections in May?
This scaremongering about European ideas could be a foretaste of the EU election campaign of the CSU, for example.
What do you think of the suggestion by your EU parliamentary colleague Elmar Brok [of the CSU's sister party, the CDU - Ed.] that suspected benefit cheats from eastern Europe should have their fingerprints taken?
With this suggestion Elmar Brok is joining in the pillorying of Romanian and Bulgarian citizens. He too is implying that they have criminal intent. A European politician like him, who has been in office for many years, and participated in the negotiations over the accession of these two countries to the EU and the negotiations over the freedom of movement of workers should show responsibility in this respect.
In which fields are EU citizens from eastern Europe indispensable for Germany?
Statistics show that Bulgarians and Romanians are among those Europeans who are very well integrated into the job market in Germany. Right across all the professional categories they do not constitute a burden on the welfare system - quite the contrary. Furthermore, eastern Europeans take a great deal of the burden off the care system and health insurance because in these fields they often, unfortunately, work for much lower pay than German employees. There are a great many Germans who profit from this, too, both legally and illegally.
Rebecca Harms is the co-chair of the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament. She hopes to be selected to lead the European Green party into the elections in May: The two new chairs will be chosen in February.
The interview was conducted by Jennifer Fraczek.