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German parties divided over immigration, welfare toughening

English.news.cn   2014-01-03 07:13:56            

BERLIN, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- Germany's Christian Social Union (CSU), Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bavarian ally and one of the three coalition parties, is coming under mounting criticism due to its calls to toughen social welfare laws as the European labor markets open to Romanians and Bulgarians.

Labor market restrictions across the European Union (EU) on Bulgarian and Romanian nationals are lifted on Jan. 1, fuelling concerns among CSU politicians over a possible influx of so-called "poverty immigrants" from eastern Europe.

According to media reports, the CSU has drawn up proposals, scheduled to be discussed at a party meeting in early January, to make it more difficult for "poor newcomers" to claim state benefits.

The conservative party proposes that other EU nationals should be ineligible for welfare payments for the first three months after arriving in Germany. Tougher penalties for welfare cheats, including deportation and refusal of future re-entry, are also included in the proposals.

The CSU initiative, which was exposed a few days before the end of the labor market restrictions, has sparked massive criticism, especially from the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), another coalition partner in Merkel's new government.

"If you play that kind of melody, you're allowing the right-wing extremists to dance," SPD deputy Michael Hartmann told German media.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier noted the freedom of movement for workers is "an essential part of European integration" and Germany has benefited tremendously from that.

Questioning that principle damages Europe and Germany, he said.

Criticism also came from opposition parties. Bernd Riexinger,leader of the Left Party, blasted CSU's proposals as "incitement against foreigners". Officials of the Green Party compared the CSU even with neo-Nazi extremists.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer rejected all the allegations, saying the measures against EU citizens who falsely claim social security benefits are part of the coalition agreement.

"We are not against well-trained and qualified immigrants," CSU Secretary-General Andreas Scheuer noted. "But we do not want to and cannot solve social problems of other EU countries through German social security system."

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, is reportedly suffering from a lack of skilled labor. But its relatively generous social security system sparks fears of "benefit tourism" from poorer European countries.

The tough stance of the CSU is not new. Hans-Peter Friedrich, ex-Interior Minister in Merkel's last government, had warned of a "wave of poverty immigrants" many times and promised tougher measures including expulsions and travel bans.

The ex-minister made the move as a response to complaints in some German communities about Romanians and Bulgarians immigrating to abuse the country's social welfare system.

Commenting on concerns over possible problems caused by an immigration influx at local and regional level, Laszlo Andor, European commissioner for social affairs, said: "The solution is not to build walls against the workers, but try to solve the problems."

Aydan Ozoguz, SPD deputy leader and integration minister of the German government, pointed out that it would be necessary to provide fast and effective financial aid for those affected communities.

It is estimated that the number of Romanians and Bulgarians in Germany could rise to between 470,000 and 550,000 from 370,000 currently. Germany's Labor Ministry told media the opening-up of German labor market to the two Eastern European countries would not bring particular risks.

Representatives from German economy appear to be more open toward the newcomers.

German companies have difficulties in finding qualified personnel, said Achim Dercks, Deputy General-Manager of the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry. "And because of that, immigrants are very welcomed."

Editor: Yamei Wang
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