Germany sets up panel on migrant welfare
The German government is setting up a special panel on labour migration and possible welfare abuse, comprising of state secretaries from almost all ministries in response to calls by local municipalities and the Bavarian Conservatives to curb 'social benefits tourism.'
"Migration and freedom of movement - both are expressly welcome and wanted by the German government. The panel will probe if and what operational and legislative measures can be taken or proposed by the ministries to prevent a potential abuse of social benefits," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday (8 January) in a press conference.
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He added that the new panel should put forward first results by June.
One of the coalition parties - the Bavarian Christian Social Union - in recent weeks has stepped up its rhetoric against alleged social benefits abuses as it prepares for local and EU elections with the slogan "who cheats is kicked out."
The mayors of some 15 German towns had also complained about an increase in welfare recipients - particularly Roma who are entitled to child benefits.
Seibert however stressed that the new panel is "not targeting a particular nationality or ethnicity."
"It's about people. It's about migration. It's about local municipalities and how they can cope with it," the spokesman said.
The UK in recent months has stirred up a debate on changing EU laws on labour migration to prevent people from eastern European countries to cash in child benefits and send them back home, especially with Romania and Bulgaria having their labour market restrictions lifted all across the bloc on 1 January.
Germany so far has kept a cautious stance on the matter.
A spokesman for the German interior ministry said fresh figures on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants can be expected at earliest in February.
Statistics for 2012 show that less that there were fewer than 50,000 new arrivals from the two countries, even if the numbers are higher than in 2011.
In the months up to June 2013, there were another 44,600 Romanians and Bulgarians who came to Germany to work.
Meanwhile, the Polish-British row on labour migration continues to rumble on, with the two countries' Prime Ministers holding a phone conversation on Wednesday.
British PM David Cameron restated that it had been "wrong" to let Poles and other eastern European workers enter the British market in 2004.
"We need to address the impact on countries’ benefits systems, including for example paying child benefit to families living abroad," Cameron said in a press statement after the phone talk.
His office said that he and Polish PM Donald Tusk will have "further bilateral discussions" on the topic.
Meanwhile, some MPs from Polish fringe parties have started calling on Polish shoppers to boycott the British supermarket chain, Tesco, in reaction to the UK rhetoric.