German Chancellor Merkel's government has formed a new committee to look into concerns about migrants abusing social benefits in Germany. A heated debate about immigrants from eastern Europe prompted the decision.
In response to a national debate about immigrants and their rights to social benefits in Germany, the German cabinet announced on Wednesday the formation of a commission tasked with investigating these concerns.
"It's about human beings, it's about immigration, it's about municipalities and how well they can cope with [these issues]," Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, told reporters in Berlin.
Most government ministries are to participate in the new committee, which will be co-chaired by the ministries of labor and of the interior. Germany's immigration commissioner Azdan Özoguz (pictured left) is to work alongside the committee, which is set to begin meeting next week and is expected to release the results of its study by June at the latest
The spark for the political debate came at the beginning of the year when citizens from Bulgaria and Romania were granted the standard European Union rights to largely free movement. Most EU citizens already have these rights.
Prominent members of the Christian Social Union (CSU) - the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - warned that expanding the rights for those countries would encourage poorer migrants to seek out Germany for its generous social welfare benefits. Jobseekers arriving in Germany have 90 days to find work, during which time they are not eligible to claim welfare payments, and can be sent home if they fail to find a job in the three month period.
The claim still triggered a national debate and sharp criticism from center-left coalition partner SPD, which has accused the CSU of fear mongering and has disputed the claims as false considering the conditions already attached to the EU's "free movement." Meanwhile, Merkel's CDU has largely tried to avoid taking sides.
Merkel's spokesperson Seibert emphasized on Wednesday that the committee was not singling out any particular country.
"[This is not about] fueling distrust of citizens from individual nations," he said. The new committee was concerned with "taking seriously the problems raised by municipalities."
The Institute for Employment Research estimates that Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants accounted for only 0.6 percent of those who draw from the country's welfare program for low-income or long-term unemployment.
kms/hc (AFP, dpa)