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EU 'not pushing Germany'

January 10, 2014

The EU Commission has denied it wants Germany to open its social welfare system to unemployed EU immigrants. The remarks came in response to a German newspaper report claiming the commission had criticized German policy.

Arbeitsemigration aus Bulgarien und Rumänien 02.01.2014
Image: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Is Germany too tough on EU immigrants?

The EU Commission moved swiftly on Friday to dispel claims that it sought to influence the country's migration policies, as it had been portrayed in a German newspaper article earlier in the day.

"The EU Commission is not pushing Germany to ease its requirements for [EU immigrants'] access to social welfare benefits. Claims saying otherwise and media reports are false," EU Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde said.

EU Commission spokesperson Ahrenkilde added that EU law already defines clear parameters which would hinder EU migrants from abusing the social welfare systems of host countries.

Earlier on Friday, the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung published an article that said the Commission had criticized German policies defining the circumstances when migrants have the right to claim its unemployment or low-income social welfare benefits known as Hartz IV. The Munich-based daily cited a document it had obtained from the Commission as its source.

The Commission also said that its response was not aimed at influencing an ongoing case currently before the European court of Justice in Luxembourg, which was the focus of the report cited in the Süddeutsche article.

The EU judiciary is currently looking at claims from a 24-year-old Romanian woman who says she should not have been refused the payments. She has been residing in Germany since 2010, but has no record of employment during that time.

'A national matter'

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson responded to the controversy on Friday.

"I regard the application of social welfare laws as a national matter, though they can be reviewed by the European Court of Justice," Merkel's spokersperson, Steffen Seibert, said on Friday.

"We don't see grounds to change our view of the law," he added.

The issue of EU migrants taking advantage of Germany's generous social welfare system has become the object of a heated debate since the new year.

On January 1, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens were granted the additional EU right to the freedom of movement. The inclusion of these two nations prompted an argument between Germany's new coalition government.

Members of the Bavarian CSU - the sister party to Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - have raised fears of a rise in "poverty migration" in Germany and have advocated stricter rules on intra-EU immigrations.

Meanwhile, center-left coalition partners - the Social Democrats (SPD) - have disputed the concerns, citing the country's already strict laws for granting social welfare benefits. They have also said that the free movement of EU citizens would benefit Germany.

Merkel's CDU has remained largely neutral and introduced a committee to investigate the facts behind EU immigrations and abuse of the social welfare system earlier this week.

Majority welcomes qualified workers

The immigration issue has become sufficiently prominent in recent weeks that public broadcaster ARD focused on it in its monthly "DeutschlandTrend" political poll, published on Friday.

Majorities of around 70 percent of the participants agreed with two statements on the issue: one saying that "our economy needs qualified workers from other countries," and the other saying that "immigrants from EU countries who are not seeking a job should be made to leave the country again."

Statistics currently suggest that an above-average number of Romanians and Bulgarians in Germany have jobs compared to other migrant groups. Advocates of tougher rules counter that this is the case because until January 1, Germany was permitted to reject some would-be migrants from the two countries. German labor agencies have said that they favor the expanded open-border policy, citing record employment figures and an aging population.

kms/hc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)