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."



Discuss this issue with other readers!
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peskyvera 01/14/2014
1. optional
Is it a matter of wanting the cake and eating it too? If you haven't lived/worked in any particular country, you should not be entitled to any social benefits. This is not a matter of Germany being a fortress; this is a matter of Germany defending its sovereignty. Just picture poor people from all over Europe flooding Germany. Brussels is a bureaucratic dictatorship - more like a straight jacket.
floydburton1 01/14/2014
2. EU Open Borders
The EU is now faced with a birth rate that will not sustain your population. Your population age distribution is really old. This is a normal process - as a population increases in wealth - a whole range of fun things becomes available. Raising a family is a real chore, particularly for females. Care must be taken - a huge influx of poor people with no technical skills and education essentially can increase the number of people should be thought of like this. The numerator is the number of people in the nation and the denominator is the wealth of the nation. If the numerator is increased significantly, then the average wealth really decreases. Germany after WWI and the Treaty of Paris experienced a vast reduction in the wealth/denominator of Germany. Fortunately after WWII George Marshall and others in power saw what they had to do. It was a near thing - the communists offered a different path to take. Every morning Der Spiegel is the second web site I look at after the New York Times - which really covers the world. Butch
kaatje45 01/14/2014
3. optional
The social experiment from 60 is not working. And rob peter to pay paul, is an extreme idea. Once the socialist run out of giving away other people's money we end up in an other world catastrophie . History tells us the future.
patang 01/14/2014
4. optional
The whole purpose is to bring down the Germans to the level that others are at. Being a EU member and well organized like Germany is a curse. The Germans are the powerhouse of Europe and that does not bode well for the rest.Romania Bulgaria will never become productive members of the union, they joined to enjoy the benefits that come with being in the EU. It is a false feeling of good, most of the EU is supported by a few.
wildberry 01/14/2014
5. optional
It is always interesting to note the use of the pejorative word ‘populist’ when tempers flare. The writer, and the publication that prints his article, both have strong and similar views on the matter under discussion. They use the loaded term ‘populist’ so that the merits of the view they oppose may be rubbished without too much effort. It may be helpful to remind “Spiegel Staff” that what they scornfully call populism is also known as democracy. This is a form of government that enables general opinion to be taken into account. It is invariably praised by those who seek the vote of the population at large at events known as elections. I believe it is also associated with the concept of accountability. Perhaps “Spiegel Staff” see themselves as superior to this sort of low politics. Respect!
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