Japan Times, January 5, 2014
Germany, Europe’s top economy, is grappling with how to handle immigration from poor EU members Romania and Bulgaria now that their citizens can seek work anywhere within the bloc.
Restrictions that barred residents from the European Union’s two poorest states looking for jobs in some of its wealthiest members expired Wednesday, sparking fears by some of mass invasion and so-called benefits tourism.
Britain, where hundreds of thousands of immigrants have settled since the European Union first expanded into Eastern Europe in 2004, in December rushed through legislation restricting EU migrants from claiming unemployment handouts.
Germany, the continent’s economic powerhouse, where the minimum wage is about five times what it is in Romania and Bulgaria, is now also considering what steps to take.
Days before the government of conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to examine possible measures to make benefits abuse more difficult, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel called for a debate on the issue.
“I think it’s not necessary to exaggerate this issue. But it shouldn’t be minimized either,” he said in an interview with Bild newspaper Saturday.
Gabriel and Merkel agreed in talks held Friday on the need for tougher measures against those abusing the country’s generous welfare system.
“We don’t need all-out discrimination of the Bulgarians and Romanians, but neither should we ignore the problems some big German cities face with the immigration of poor people,” Gabriel said.
Like Britain, prosperous Germany also presents a strong lure to Romanian and Bulgarian migrants. The minimum wage for a 19-year-old there is the equivalent of $1,140 per month, compared with $232 in Romania and $208 in Bulgaria, according to the World Bank’s 2014 economic profiles of the countries.
In addition, the country has a generous welfare system, in which any family with children legally residing in the country has a right to ask for state benefits.