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Coalition strains on migration

January 2, 2014

The Social Democrats and the crucial Bavarian sister party of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat alliance - now partners - have traded barbs over the EU's extension of freedom of movement to Bulgaria and Romania.

Sign saying 'Willkommen in Deutschland'
Image: Becky Stares/Fotolia.com

Streit um Zuwanderung

Senior Social Democrats told Thursday's edition of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's most prominent left-leaning daily newspapers that is also based in Munich, that the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) was using "stupid slogans" to stoke debate on immigration from Romania and Bulgaria.

As of January 1, the two comparatively new EU members enjoy similar rights to freedom of movement as more established member countries.

"The CSU has not understood Europe. And evidently it doesn't even want to," the foreign ministry's special representative for European affairs, SPD politician Michael Roth, told the Süddeutsche. Roth said that this became apparent during the lengthy coalition negotiations after September's election before the rival groups agreed to govern together.

"The CSU doesn't even grasp the facts of the issue," Roth said, saying the Social Democrats were "ready to offer concrete help" if "real problems" on the issue of migration emerged.

Chancellor Merkel's Bavarian CSU partners have raised questions about the prospect of what they have dubbed "poverty immigration" from two of the EU's least wealthy member countries.

Social Democrat Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the Süddeutsche that raising questions about EU freedom of movement "hurts Germany and hurts Europe." Steinmeier called rights to move freely between EU countries - which are only valid if a citizen can find work within 90 days of arrival – an "indispensable part of European integration," from which Germany "has surely profited much more than others."

CSU points to prior coalition deal

Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer, speaking to mass-circulation daily Bild, described the criticisms from the Social Democrats as "absurd." He also said that the new German coalition had agreed to send home any EU migrants found to have claimed state welfare during their 90-day period seeking work. Seehofer's party ally Markus Ferber, the CSU's chairman at the European Parliament, said this agreement complied with EU laws.

"Every EU citizen is permitted to spend 90 days in another member country, in order to seek employment. During this period, they have no right to claim welfare. And they must return home if they fail to find work," Ferber told the Bavarian Augsburger Allgemeine daily on Thursday.

The greater freedom of movement granted to citizens of Romania and Bulgaria has also prompted heated political debate in Britain.

Nine EU members - Austria, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain - have this year permitted greater freedom of movement for citizens of two of the EU's newest members; Bulgaria and Romania both joined the bloc in 2007. At the time, a condition of their accession was that other EU members could wait seven years before affording the countries similar rights to migration enjoyed elsewhere in the bloc.

Germany's Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) on Thursday said it approved of the development, shortly after similar statements from the Federation of German Industry (BDI). Germany on Thursday announced its 2013 employment figures, again logging a post-war record for the number of people in work.

Germany's new grand coalition government enjoys a massive majority in the national parliaments because it incorporates the two largest political factions, but it is also liable to suffer more internal stresses than the previous government as it unites political rivals.

msh/jlw (AFP, dpa)

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