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Thursday, November 06, 2014

Germany's Bundestag votes in favour of stricter benefits rules for EU migrants

The German Bundestag today approved changes to the country’s Immigration Act which are meant to prevent the abuse of EU free movement. This is not yet a done deal as the Bundesrat - the German upper house - needs to approve the changes, and the grand coalition doesn't have an automatic majority there.

Re-capping our previous blogs on this, here are the key proposals - none of them will involve changes to EU law, according to the German government:

Six month maximum stay for EU job-seekers: Jobless EU migrants seeking work in Germany, who don't have sufficient means of supporting themselves (including health insurance) and have limited job opportunities, will be forced to prove after six months that they have a "reasonable chance" of being employed. Otherwise, they will be forced to leave. Exactly how this will work in practice is unclear. This is very similar to what the UK Government already is doing.

Five year re-entry bans: EU migrants abusing EU free movement (by forging documents or being in a fake marriage, for example) will face a re-entry ban of five years. 

Linking child benefit payments to national tax ID numbers: to avoid duplication of payments to EU migrants - which will only apply to EU migrants, not German citizens (which raises a number of questions and which may well be challenged at the ECJ, depending on the outcome of some pending ECJ rulings). 

€225m (€200m of this was already agreed) in financial assistance to help local authorities to deal with migration (€140m would come out of the European Social Fund). 

Interestingly the report that served as basis for the draft law also has a section on “possible further measures on the European level” which notes that:
“Also in other [EU] member states…the issue is debated, in parts very controversially. In this respect the question arises….if and in how far considerations for further steps on the European level or together with European regulations are necessary and reasonable. The Committee will deliver an opinion on this in its final report.”
There are two separate cases referred from German social courts to the ECJ to keep an eye on. The first ruling - relating to the access to benefits for “economically inactive” EU migrants - will be delivered on 11 November and Angela Merkel stressed already that she "spoke with David Cameron and we are both anxious to receive the verdict and we will interpret it together."


David Horton said...

One wonders what was the thinking in Germany behind this move?

It could be that Germany is becoming increasingly aware and wary of the very mood that is so powerful here in UK. Throughout the Free Movement discussion (not there has been one), there have been two constants. First, that outwardly at least, 27 nations have scolded UK, saying it should be quiet and accept that the EU will not negotiate on Free Movement. Secondly, and possibly conversely, there is a grudging acknowledgement amongst the North EU states that there are problems around the disparately in the amounts of welfare benefits across EU states.

So Germany is politely but firmly tightening up their benefit rules, but in a targeted way; the target being EU migrants from nations with less generous benefits systems. This does raise a wry smile in that Germany is doing what UK has been largely unable to do. However, as I said, it also raises the question of why? Could there be an breeze of disquiet in Germany that the Bundestag would rather prevent becoming a gale, similar to that which we have in UK? Is there an under-table-sympathy in Germany for the UK position? Or is it a complete lack of sympathy and instead a frown at our inability or unwillingness to actually do something.

Less likely is that Germany is finally taking the UK threat to leave the EU seriously and is making changes in the face of EU migrants needing a different destination.

One can hope.

Richard said...

This is irrelevant to the big potential future UK bill of in work benefits to low income EU families. The term "benefit tourism" is very misleading since from what I can see EU migrants learn about in work benefits after they arrive. They may not be an incentive to come but they have to add to the incentive to stay and raise your family in the UK. No wonder the CBI is in favour of EU migration. You can recruit your Hungarian sandwich makers on minimum wage secure in the knowledge that UK tax payers will pick up much of the future cost.