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'Benefits tourism' inquiry agreed

January 3, 2014

Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced the creation of an inquiry to look into whether German laws are sufficient to ward off 'benefits tourists.' This seems designed to end a spat between two of her coalition partners.

Angela Merkel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Chancellor Merkel's new grand coalition government has been in office for less than a month and already two of its three members have been locked in a very public row over policy.

As labor market restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians were lifted under European Union law with the start of the new year, the Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), expressed fears about what they described as "poverty migration" from two of the EU's poorest member states.

The Social Democrats, (SPD) who had been in opposition for the past four years, struck back, accusing their new Bavarian partners of failing to recognize the fact that Germany had benefited from the EU's freedom-of-movement regulations.

A single telephone call

On Friday, Merkel sought to put a lid on the simmering row, announcing that a parliamentary committee of inquiry would be formed to study whether current laws are enough to prevent what some have described as "benefits tourists" from travelling to Germany with the intention of exploiting the country's social welfare programs.

Georg Streiter, the chancellor's deputy spokesman, told reporters in Berlin that after a telephone conversation, Merkel and the leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel had agreed to set up the inquiry - during the new government's first cabinet meeting next Wednesday.

Specifically, Streiter said, the committee was to look into "whether the ministries should undertake operative measures against the abuse of welfare benefits."

He also denied that the CSU and SPD were at loggerheads over the issue.

"Anyone who can read will realize there is no disagreement in substance between the parties in the coalition," Streiter said.

He also stressed that Germany remained committed to the free movement of labor within the EU, noting that it had also been one of the main beneficiaries of the policy. Germany is grappling with worker shortages in many sectors, including small-to-medium sized businesses in rural areas.

pfd/se (AFP, dpa)