Romania and Bulgaria migration issue divides Germans

 
Bulgarian Roma man Dimitar Todorov sits in his squat in Berlin, 4 December 2013 Bulgarian Roma man Dimitar Todorov was living in a squat in Berlin last month

It is not just the Brits who are arguing over migrants and what benefits they should receive. In Germany, the first political argument of the New Year and the first divisions within the new coalition have been over migrants.

At the first cabinet meeting of 2014 - on Wednesday - the issue of migrants has forced its way on to the agenda. Chancellor Angela Merkel - presumably on crutches after her skiing injury - is determined to attend.

In Britain the problem is defined as "benefits tourism". In Germany it is referred to as "poverty migration". The angst has been sparked by the lifting of work restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians since 1 January. As in Britain, the gulf between what a worker on the minimum wage can receive in Germany and Bulgaria is huge. In Germany the minimum wage will deliver 836 euros (£706; $1,156) a month compared to just 150 in Bulgaria.

So to German politics and step forward Elmar Brok. He is a member of the European Parliament and belongs to Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party, the CDU. He told Bild that "immigrants who only come to Germany [to obtain benefits] should be sent back to their country of origin". Just to ensure they did not return, he suggested they could be finger-printed. His comments infuriated Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta to the point that he accused him of having a "Nazi mind-set".

Then step forward Horst Seehofer, the leader of the CSU, also an ally and long-standing coalition partner of Angela Merkel. He suggested that those who abuse the benefits system should be expelled. He wants a three-month waiting period before migrants become eligible for welfare. Other conservative voices argued for payments to be restricted.

Emergency aid appeals

As in Britain, the opposition cannot avoid the debate. The new German Vice-Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, said: "We don't need all-out discrimination against the Bulgarians and Romanians but nor should we ignore the problems some big German cities faced with the immigration of poor peoples."

Last November 16 German cities sought emergency aid to help cope with migrants, pointing out that free movement of people had "far-reaching economic and social consequences".

The arguments have cut across party lines. Another conservative politician, Armin Laschet, said such ideas as finger-printing migrants "really don't fit into an open Europe".

So just as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is calling for a two-year ban on migrants receiving benefits and Nigel Farage of UKIP is suggesting a five-year ban, Germany too is having its own debate.

All of this touches on much wider questions.

Germany, in its own way, is arguing over how much power should reside at the national level or go to the European Commission. In an interesting article, Der Spiegel quotes an unnamed adviser to Angela Merkel as saying that "only nation states can justify the reforms that are now truly necessary". Some people close to Angela Merkel are arguing for more Europe to integrate further the eurozone but that does not mean necessarily more Brussels.

It is a time in Europe, which will only intensify in the run-up to the European elections, when some of the defining features of the EU will be argued over and debated.

 
Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • Comment number 166.

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  • Comment number 165.

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  • Comment number 164.

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    Comment number 163.

    161. pro

    "What a shame Germany does not hold the presidency this year.
    At least the UK would be properly governed if that was the case"

    There are certainly things that the Germans do better than the Brits & from which the Brits should learn. But Switzerland appears to be even better.

    Make German the first foreign language and teach it differently!

    Learn - Yes!

    Dictatorship NO!

  • Comment number 162.

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  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 161.

    @159.EUprisoner209456731
    What a shame Germany does not hold the presidency this year.
    At least the UK would be properly governed if that was the case.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 160.

    133.quietoaktree
    Thought you would commented on the Merkel quote as it implied that immigration at that point was not acceptable (2010) Germany was not able to accept a multicultural society. I pointed out in 132 there appears to be a strong movement back to parties of the past not only anti Euro but EU and immigration. The coalition is already under strain with cracks appearing GDR press & TV

  • Comment number 159.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 158.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 157.

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 156.

    We heard a lot of noise coming out of Europe about racism in America during the Trayvon Martin Case last year. What about your own racism Europe? How will you reconcile it with a super state with one culture, one everything. You've got a lot of work ahead of you if it can be made to work at all. Pretending it doesn't exist isn't going to get it done or make it go away Europe.

  • Comment number 155.

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 154.

    Chancellor Merkel and Germany is going to have to decide between itself and EU

    If it chooses EU over itself, it will allow unlimited immigration
    If it chooses itself over EU, it will limit immigration to protect itself

    The fact that multiple cities in Germany are raising alarms tells you that Germans want to remain German

    I do wish Merkel a speedy recovery from her fracture

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 153.

    148"Germany could not possibly even consider employing labour from other countries as it could hardly cope with this influx of its own people"

    True but now it has to because it has no choice.That is EU law.What an interesting dilemma.If they destroy the EU they bankrupt themselves by crashing Euro and if they don't they're ruined demographically.Heads they lose, tails the lose.A comedy of fools

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 152.

    It just goes to show that even Germany itself is not fully aligned with EU's ambitions

    Germans are just now realizing the impact of EU extends far beyond monetary such as whether the future of Germany will be German or European

    After all, Romanians and Bulgarians are Europeans-
    but are they Germans also?

    Being a German on paper is not necessarily the same as being a German in your heart

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 151.

    144 EU


    "ARD reports unemployment in Eurozone higher than in rest of "EU"

    Hardly surprising considering how many eurozone countries are still recovering from Soviet occupation or include such basket cases as Greece

    As the saying goes: "There are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics"

  • rate this
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    Comment number 150.

    sieuarlu @147
    "THE problem"
    One of many
    Those of states in turn of the personal, forced on individuals

    The underlying is global insecurity of the individual. Migration pressure made inevitable (EU/non-EU/Mexican - driven by 'our' market forces, from 'our' neglect of education for the 'belonging' of all. No expectation for 'balance' in loyalties to place & purpose, for family & means to provide.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 149.

    Well Europe, this is another find mess you've gotten yourself into. How are you going to get out of it? UK has one advantage over Germany, it hasn't adopted the Euro. If there is a way out of this, that alone will make it easier. If Germany were to throw in the towel this afternoon, the Euro and the EU would probably be gone by sunrise tomorrow. What would ensue in the chaos is anyone's guess.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 148.

    127 QOT

    "Germans .. know that without the millions of ´guest workers´ they would not have achieved their wealth"

    Post war Germany was swamped with ethnic German refugees (16m) being expelled from Eastern Europe or fleeing Russian invasion. Germany could not possibly even consider employing labour from other countries as it could hardly cope with this influx of its own people

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 147.

    145The problem for the UK and Germany is they now face a legal flood of impoverished people who have a legal right to all of the benefits society can confer and no way to provide those social benefits even if they want to.Listening to those drum beats from demagogues like Barroso, Ashton, Draghi, Monnet they never thought to ask what would happen when this day arrived.Now it has with no answer.

 

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