Amid a fierce debate about welfare abuse by migrants within the EU, the European Commission has presented new guidelines on social benefit eligibility. The debate has been especially contentious in Germany.
The European Commission's new guide presented Monday seeks to clarify the concept of habitual residence – one of the conditions used to assess EU citizens eligibility for social welfare benefits in a member state other than their own.
The publishing of the guide follows a fierce debate about welfare abuse by migrants, which has been fuelled in part by the granting of increased freedom of movement to people from the two least wealthy EU countries, Romania and Bulgaria, on January 1.
The guide delineates the criteria for benefit eligibility, including family status, length of stay, income sources, pattern of employment and where the person pays taxes.
However, EU Employment Commissioner Laszlo Andor, who presented the new guidelines, said no "major increase" in emigration is expected as there are "clear safeguards" in EU law that prevent the abuse of social security systems.
"There are over three million people from Bulgaria and Romania already living in other member states and it is unlikely that there will be any major increase following the ending of the final restrictions," he said in a statement adding that, "In hard times, mobile EU citizens are all too often an easy target."
'Over-emotional and misguided'
Andor said the debate - which has been especially tense in Britain and Germany - is "sometimes over-emotional and misguided."
"The domestic political calendar of some member states...for example referenda in sight on the political horizon," meant that "a different type of discussion is emerging," Andor said. "I would not like to blame the lack of information for having sometimes over-emotional and misguided discussions in certain member states," he said.
Andor criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party for clamping down on benefits for migrants, which he said risked making the UK look "nasty."
The debate has also been a divisive issue for Germany's new coalition government.
- 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.
Current EU law allows EU citizens to seek work in another country within the bloc for 90 days. During this time, they are not allowed to claim welfare and if they fail to find work in that time, they must return to their home countries.
hc/kms (AFP, dpa)