Germany, other northern states want to ban “welfare tourism” by Romani people
In the wealthy countries of northern Europe, especially in Germany, which will see elections to the Bundestag this fall, the expression “immigration of poverty” is now being used quite frequently. Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) reports that the immigrants at issue are specifically Romani people from the Balkans who settle in urban areas, reportedly burdening them with demands for social services and in some cases with crime.
The NZZ reports that German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a Christian Democrat from Bavaria, has a well-developed sense for such popular concerns. Friedrich met with his counterparts from Austria, Britain and the Netherlands last week to discuss the issue.
The ministers have agreed to call on Brussels to have the EU proceed more energetically against the emigration of impoverished people from some Member States. Romani people from Bulgaria and Romania in particular are said to be demanding social welfare services from the wealthier EU countries.
"This kind of immigration threatens our common aim to support the mobility of all EU citizens who study, want to build a business, or want to work in other Member States,” reads a letter from the interior ministers to the EU Presidency, which is currently held by Ireland, and to the European Commission in Brussels. The German daily Die Welt has published excerpts of it.
The four interior ministers write that this immigration is a burden for numerous towns and villages in the areas of education and health care, among others, as those arriving from southeastern Europe are asserting their rights to such services. Housing must also be provided to them.
"These immigrants are exploiting the opportunities afforded them by their freedom of movement around the EU without fulfilling the prerequisites for such a right,” the letter reads. The document goes on to state that many immigrants (understood to mean Roman people) are demanding welfare, such as aid for dependent children, often without genuinely qualifying for it.
A boisterous discussion about impoverished immigrants from the Balkans has been ongoing in Germany for some time now. This is one reason why Friedrich expressed his disagreement in March of this year with Bulgaria and Romania become part of the Schengen area.
Mayors of many towns in Germany are warning that in 2014, Bulgarian and Romanian citizens will be permitted to work EU-wide. Last year visa requirements for travel to the EU were lifted for citizens of Macedonia and Serbia and the number of asylum-seekers in Germany from those countries rapidly increased.
Berlin, however, rapidly adopted several measures to deter Romani people (primarily) from seeking their fortunes in Germany. Last year Germany authorities did not grant a single asylum request from any Macedonian or Serbian citizens.
The ministers of the four countries quoted above are now demanding that the necessary legal tools against this alleged abuse of freedom of movement in the EU be made available. Some legislation for such cases already exists, but is said to be insufficient.
While countries can eject the foreign “perpetrators” of these alleged abuses, nothing prevents them from re-entry, sometimes even on the very same day. Current options for sanctions are insufficient, in short.
The ministers wrote in their letter that it is allegedly incomprehensible to anyone with common sense that a person might make use of all the social advantages offered by a country where that person has never lived, never paid taxes, and never worked. There is reportedly a need to re-evaluate such practices.
For the time being, Brussels has preferred to keep its hands out of the problems of the various Member States reportedly afflicted by “welfare tourism”. EU authorities are saying there is a “problem of perception” with respect to the question of Romani people in Europe.
In Germany the Green Party and Social Democrats (SPD) have criticized the interior ministers’ letter. Critics say its demand for “action” misses the mark and is populism plain and simple.
The Berliner Zeitung newspaper quotes Green Party chair Claudia Roth as saying the ministers are engaged in an “evil campaign” against Romani and Sinti people. In her view, Friedrich is merely seeking votes from the extreme right.
The author of the report in Neue Zürcher Zeitung argues that the “Romani problem” is a consequence of the collapse of socialist structures during the transition to capitalism in the southeast of the European Union. That process has resulted in the impoverishment of broad layers of the population there. The present-day migration of Romani people, therefore, is not about their right to a particular lifestyle, to their having itinerancy “in their blood”, or about begging and occasional work being part of their “nature”, but is linked to the problem of the fight against poverty.
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