Welfare for Immigrants EU Wants Fortress Germany to Open Up
Part 2: 'We Need More Not Fewer Immigrants'
But it will be very difficult today to make up for past failures and lost time. When Eastern European countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the EU in 2004, Germany was one of the few countries that took advantage of EU rules allowing member states to restrict access to their labor market for citizens from the new EU member states for seven years. Instead, millions of well-educated workers skipped Germany altogether and made their way to Britain, Spain and Ireland.
When those countries obtained full access to the labor market in 2011, a debate similar to the one simmering today about Romanians and Bulgarians ensued. Prominent Munich-based economist Hans-Werner Sinn, for example, issued a loud warning against Eastern European immigrants, who he claimed would overrun prosperous Germany, lamenting the phenomenon as "immigration into the social welfare system."
'Germany Profits from Immigration'
That isn't the way things turned out in the end. Of the 400,000 Romanians and Bulgarians who live in Germany according to the federal government's Central Foreigners Register, the bulk are employed, including around 60 percent of 15- to 65-year-olds, estimate researchers at IAB, the research institute for the Federal Employment Agency. And that's only one example.
Those statistics also show that only 7 percent were unemployed, and only 10 percent received Hartz IV welfare benefits for the long-term jobless or financial benefits to help them make ends meet, indicating that they are a lot less needy than the average among the foreign population in Germany. The fact is that immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria have an above-average interest in education and training, they have fewer children than Germans and, as a result, they make use of less money from the government's family allowance.
Indeed, most economists in Germany offer similar assessments of the issue. "We need more not fewer immigrants," says Clemens Fuest, the head of the Mannheim-based Center for European Economic Research (ZEW). "This may not have been the case as recently as the 1990s, but today's immigrants are on average better qualified than German workers," says Michael Hüther, head of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, a think tank that is aligned with employers' associations. Meanwhile, Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) in Berlin, is convinced: "Even if there are individual cases of immigration to take advantage of our social system, Germany still very much profits from immigration."
To be sure, in larger cities like Frankfurt, Duisburg or Munich, there are large groups of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria who present a significant financial burden for these municipalities. Close to a year ago, the German Association of Cities, even warned that the influx of Romanians and Bulgarians threatened "social balance and social peace." But last week, Ulrich Maly, the mayor of Nuremberg and president of the organization, softened the organization's tone, conceding, "We are not dealing with a national challenge."
Germany's True Scandal
The real social scandal in Germany is the more or less open exploitation of foreigners who come to the country just to work -- and not some supposed massive influx of welfare recipients. Lured by dubious middlemen, many immigrants are often forced to peddle themselves as cheap day laborers in Germany's major cities, earning far below minimum wage.
Orhan Efraimova is one. Last spring, the 38-year-old Bulgarian climbed into a van with eight other men. He left his home country with two pairs of pants, three shirts and the hope of a better life. When the driver finally dropped him off at the market square in Hamburg's Wilhelmsburg neighborhood, he was told that he should just take a seat in one of the nearby cafes. "The bosses," he said, would quickly recognize men like him who were hungry for work and would take them with them.
He soon obtained the business license he needed in order to work legally in Germany. Normally, if a person applies for the document at the local city offices, it costs 20. But Efraimova's "boss" charged him 150 ($205) for the document, plus an additional 200 just for registering him. Since then, he has been working in bogus self-employment --in jobs that should be a staff positions under German law -- at different construction sites, sorting canned foods or packing pallets. In the beginning, he earned 35 a day and later 45, but "never more than 50," he said.
Efaimova pays his employer 250 a month for a mattress in a 15-square meter room that he shares with six other Bulgarians and rats. "I'm actually content," he says, adding that only a few things bother him. Since his arrival in Germany, he has only managed to wire 250 to his family back at home. In Germany, he laments, there are "simply too many holidays."
Those really wanting to do something to address the true problems linked to poverty migration ought to be pushing for more effective rules prohibiting wage exploitation and forms of self-employment that should actually be full-fledged employee positions. At issue here is the need for regulations applying to both Germans and other Europeans that are as harmonized to the extent possible across the EU.
Of course, this isn't the kind of message politicians are keen to hear. Many would rather go on stirring up sentiment against immigrants as well as the European Union. Andreas Scheuer, the CSU's new general secretary, accuses the European Commission of giving "free admission to the German social safety net." He predicts it will lead to a serious influx of immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania.
Germany Should Roll Out Red Carpet
Even on the side of the center-left Social Democrats, some politicians have remained conspicuously silent about the issue. During the coming weeks, municipal elections are slated in Bavaria, populous North Rhine-Westphalia and nine other states. Many politicians will likely avoid the possibility of frightening voters with the prospects of an uptick in immigration to Germany.
The only politicians speaking openly about the issue are those who still have some time to go before they have to face their voters again, like Torsten Albig, the SPD governor of the state of Schleswig-Holstein.
"No one in Schleswig-Holstein or Bavaria wants our companies to go under because of a lack of skilled workers or to have to be cared for by robots because there are no caregivers left," he says. "That's why we need to open our doors, roll out the red carpet and extend our hands to all immigrants."
REPORTED BY MELANIE AMANN, SVEN BÖLL, MARKUS DETTMER, ÖZLEM GEZER, ANN-KATRIN MÜLLER, MICHAEL SAUGA AND CHRISTOPH SCHULT
- Part 1: EU Wants Fortress Germany to Open Up
- Part 2: 'We Need More Not Fewer Immigrants'