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Germany eyes curbing social welfare for EU nationals

Kate Brady
October 12, 2016

A new bill being discussed by Germany's Cabinet could see unemployed EU nationals being denied social welfare for five years. Supporters of the legislation have said it would prevent a "certain form of social tourism."

Illustration Schriftzug "Hartz IV"
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Germany's Cabinet was due on Wednesday to discuss a change in legislation restricting social welfare for non-German EU citizens. Under the draft bill, proposed by Labor Minister and Social Democrat (SPD) Andrea Nahles, EU immigrants who move to Germany without employment would be denied social welfare or "Hartz IV" for five years.

The proposed legislation comes just months after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg ruled that EU citizens who move to Germany do not have the right to immediately receive welfare benefits.

EU citizens have the right to reside in another member state for up to three months without residence formalities. However, the law allows member states "to refuse any social assistance benefits" during this period of time "to promote the financial stability" of their social systems.

The court also said these benefits can be denied without requiring an individual assessment of the case.

German Labor Minister and Social Democrat (SPD) Andrea Nahles
German Labor Minister and Social Democrat (SPD) Andrea NahlesImage: DW/K. Danetzki

Support from city associations

According to Germany's Federal Labor Agency 440,000 EU nationals living in Germany received social welfare in January. Topping the list were Polish nationals with around 92,000 recipients, followed by Italians (71,000), Bulgarians (70,000), Romanians (57,000) and Greeks (46,000).

Local top-level associations have expressed their support for Nahles' legislation. Chief executive of the City and Municipal Association, Gerd Landsberg, told the "Die Welt" newspaper on Wednesday that Germany's current regulations could make Germany even more attractive to immigrants.

"Freedom of movement within the EU does not mean that EU citizens can choose the social system with the most comprehensive services," Landsberg said.

The new law should prevent abuse of the system and a "certain form of social tourism," he added.

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Avoid 'misappropriation'

Representatives from other associations expressed similar opinions. "We need this law now," said Helmut Dedy, chief executive of the German Association of Cities.

"The cities are waiting for it so that they don't have to pay additional social expenses," Dedy said, adding that the law would avoid "misappropriation" for immigrants from other EU countries.

The bill also received praise on Wednesday from the Christian Social Union (CSU) - the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

"It's right that Nahles closes the existing gap for uncontrolled immigration into social systems," Bavarian Social Affairs Minister Emilia Müller said.