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Interior minister: We need populism
Photo: DPA

Interior minister: We need populism

Published: 05 Mar 2013 09:19 GMT+01:00
Updated: 05 Mar 2013 09:19 GMT+01:00

Facing election this year, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich seems to have gone off-piste over immigration, warning that populist measures are necessary to avoid the threat of fascism, comments Hannah Cleaver.

Germany will veto Romania and Bulgaria joining the Schengen passport-free zone if the two countries push their membership at an EU meeting this week, Friedrich warned on Sunday.

"The expansion of the Schengen zone is only accepted by our citizens if the basic requirements are ensured. That is currently not the case," he said, matter-of-factly.

But some may have heard faint echoes of 1960s British racist Enoch Powell when Friedrich last week said, "We are the country which has until now been able to keep far-right parties out of the national parliament. But that will only remain the case if we continue to take the worries of the people seriously, and the problems are solved."

Talking to the Rheinische Post regional paper, he added, "If people in Germany have the feeling that their solidarity and their openness are being abused, and our social security system is being plundered, there will be justified anger."

"The current figures are troubling but can be dealt with," he went on. "But this can take on a new dimension from 2014. When people tell each other what is possible in Germany with social welfare, we should brace ourselves. Organisations that specialise in illegally opening the way to social welfare in Germany for citizens from poorer countries will spring up like mushrooms."

He was referring to changes due to come into force in 2014 that will allow people from Romania and Bulgaria to work in Germany without restriction - just as Poles, Greeks and other people from within the EU are able to.

Confusion over entitlements

Conflicting information about how much social support they may be entitled to in Germany adds to a confusing debate that is often fuelled as much by fear, xenophobia and prejudice as anything else.

Although German authorities say new immigrants are not entitled to social support for at least their first three months in the country, those who sue for it generally win, lawyer Aiko Peterson told last Friday's Süddeutsche Zeitung.

There is also a perceived problem of people from Bulgaria and Romania falsely registering as self-employed and then picking up work on building sites. The change of rules in 2014 will undoubtedly lead to an increase in immigration, said Gunilla Fincke, manager of the Expert Commission on Integration and Migration.

But she told the Süddeutsche Zeitung "in reality most of the migrants are already here. They will just be able to legalize their work situation."

Pressure on German services

Any increase in those so poor they cannot provide for themselves or their children will put more pressure on German social services - and regional governments are already complaining that they are having trouble coping.

A recent report from German Association of Cities said they were hard-pressed by increased costs in housing, schools and other social support due to poverty stricken migrants.

Professor Joachim Trebbe, media analyst at Berlin's Free University, told The Local the continuation of the euro crisis and the inability of struggling countries to get unemployment under control would mean that increasing numbers of people would flock to Germany for work.

But he also noted that not only was Friedrich gearing up for the September 22 general election, as a Christian Social Union politician he is involved in the Bavarian state election scheduled for a week earlier.

'Good immigrants' are invisible

"Migration will be an issue - people will continue to come to Germany from Spain for example, where unemployment is at 26 percent. Migration will increase, and even though the negative consequences are proportionally small, they will also increase. We have the highest level of migration to Germany of a decade, and that will become a theme.

"The IT worker from Spain will come, and will learn German and will not be visible as they go to work. But along with them will come a share of immigrants who are less successful, and they will be visible as they will not be in work."

He said those people who come to Germany and end up homeless were highly visible to voters. The kind of measures promised by politicians such as tougher safeguards to prevent social security fraud and extraditing those who do, would do little to solve the underlying problems, he said.

The fact that living in Germany from begging or eking out child benefit payments is considered a viable option for some among the poorest people in Romania or Bulgaria has less to do with Germany than the terrible conditions they face at home.

Trebbe said efforts were being made using money and political pressure within the EU to improve their lives at home, but that this was a slow process often not helped by corruption in the target countries.

"And it is not so visible to voters. Helping to improve conditions in Romania does not win elections. Clearing a park of the people sleeping in it does," he said.

Hannah Cleaver

hannah.cleaver@thelocal.com

twitter.com/hannahcleaver2

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

11:04 March 5, 2013 by soros
It seems that most people would like to make a living at home but are forced to emigrate due to the lack of opportunities. If the West wants to keep its social systems and its security in tact, it needs to invest in development of poorer countries, especially those in the EU.

In the long run, incalculable social costs and costs to the cultures of the West will make foreign investment pay off. EU companies investing in Romania, for instance, can make a real difference that goes beyond creating some local jobs: skills acquired can be spread to the next generation; new social values can take root; taxes can be collected from those employed in Romania, and the country can realize real gains, social and economic. To bring people to the West only to create social chaos is a stupid option.
11:14 March 5, 2013 by whiteriver
As hard as it sound, I share the same opinion from the interior minister. Many beggars would move to Germany and continue to be beggars. And at the lowest levels it's hard to differentiate who's willing to work and who's not.
13:10 March 5, 2013 by simski
Our interior minister is a f***in' racist. Great.
14:47 March 5, 2013 by flyintiger
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
17:40 March 5, 2013 by michael4096
Imagine a person that is so lazy he will pick up his family, leave his friends, leave everything he is familiar with, move to an unknown, possibly hostile culture, navigate unknown and hostile bureaucracy in a foreign language all so that he can live below the poverty line. Finding it difficult to reconcile the discrepency? I do. There are certainly many people that will do all those things and more, they made for example the US the country it is, but they don't do that to get a free ride on social security.

But, this is what we are asked to believe, not just in Germany but its a constant scream in Britain, France, Netherlands and other European countries. Beware the migrants coming to raid our social security! Don't be daft!

I am old enough to remember Nocker Powell and his "rivers of blood". I thought it was idiocy then and, watching real people since that time, I'm now even more convinced it's idiocy.
21:00 March 5, 2013 by crm114
michael, consider for a moment the current bogeymen in RO and BG, if you accept the current propaganda that all the good ones have already left then that leaves the great unwashed, with little or no education or transferrable skills, many belonging to the roma clans, these people already live in a society that brutalizes them, live in undescribable poverty with no prospects whatsoever, german must seem like eldorada hell i'd jump at the chance. There are already sympathetic hosts and fellow countrymen to welcome them, EU goodies for the taking, set themselves up as looking for work and they have made it. So yes they will come, and in droves.
21:29 March 5, 2013 by ChrisRea
crm114, you haven't been visiting RO and/or BG, right? You would have known that the image you painted in your post has little to do with reality.
23:53 March 5, 2013 by flyintiger
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
08:25 March 6, 2013 by michael4096
@crm114 - "...the great unwashed, with little or no education..."

If they really exist, they are the ones that are least likely to move. They know what suffering is and can imagine it can be worse. Those with the least to lose are those most afraid of losing what they have got. All western countries have been trying to get the unskilled mobile and moving from areas of suddenly no work, like mining regions, to areas where more work exists - they all fail. Not because the unskilled love being out of work but because they are afraid. And, that is within the same country.

Some people are born sufficiently ambitious, brave and adventurous that they can overcome their fears and just up-sticks and go somewhere else but you won't find these guys on social security. And, some might consider their existing environment so dangerous that a leap into the unknown is safer, real refugees, but you won't find many in Romania. Some are raised with no suffering and are sufficiently schooled they use the milk-and-honey logic - physicists now driving taxis? But, whichever way you cut it, the hoards of poor signing on social security is a myth.
11:19 March 7, 2013 by jg.
".Although German authorities say new immigrants are not entitled to social support for at least their first three months in the country, those who sue for it generally win..."

That's because EU member states may not discriminate against EU citizens exercising their treaty rights to freedom of movement. They have to treat EU immigrants the same as German citizens.

michael4096 "Imagine a person that is so lazy he will pick up his family, leave his friends, leave everything he is familiar with, move to an unknown, possibly hostile culture, navigate unknown and hostile bureaucracy in a foreign language all so that he can live below the poverty line"

You are forgetting that the poverty line in Germany is likely to represent a considerable improvement for some people from countries in Eastern Europe. Consider the case of Ali Majlat: this Romanian vagrant raped a young woman in the UK and told the court that he did this "in order to go to prison to get accommodation and learn English". This may be an extreme example but there are plenty of people who see a life on housing and child benefits as a significant improvement on their situation. They can also expect that their children may have better opportunities.
14:55 March 7, 2013 by michael4096
@jg. "They have to treat EU immigrants the same as German citizens."

They do! Your implication that there is institutional discrimination in the German social laws is unfounded - the EU itself is very careful about this and quite prepared to prosecute country that doesn't legislate fairly. What the article doesn't say is that Germans also sometimes disagree with the way social rules are applied, they also sue and they also most often win. The article also doesn't point out that in Germany your legal fees are only covered if there is broad concensus between legal experts that you have a case in the first place - ergo, if any case by a poor person even gets to court, it will probably win.

So some people like prison for whatever reason and are prepared to commit crimes to get there? Please, refer to the British sitcom Porridge for an exhaustive study of this subject. Though how this relates to someone on borderline starvation in Romania choosing instead borderline starvation in Germany, I don't understand.

As for families wanting the best for their children - what parent doesn't? Though, for prospective immigrants, that would be balanced against, for example, the possibility of losing their children to the very same social security system. It happens enough that I'm sure all sorts of stories are circulating the slums of Sofia about children taken into care in all western EU countries, not just Germany. Most people will risk themselves far more than they'll risk their children.

Sorry, you've not convinced me. I'm well aware of poverty lines and that the German line is higher than some others. But, the psychological and physical challenges facing such people far outweigh their belief in milk-and-honey. If thousands and thousands of people had already done the trip and could go back to their homeland on holiday and boast how the stupid Germans were prepared to just pay for people to just sit around in palacial appartments watching Porridge, then you might get some interest. It doesn't happen because it isn't true; and, just 'cos these people are poor doesn't mean they're stupid.
14:42 March 8, 2013 by RajeshG
Germany as a nation benefits more by integrating these new countries with vast markets for sale of cars, machinery and technology - well they pay a small price in having cheap labour and migrants landing here. The problem is that the Germany as a country keeps the billions it has earned, but does nothing to work on the society locally where these cheap labour is visible. So naturally the people who have to handle these new migrants would get upset and talk aggressively. Also there is so much disincentive for people to come out of social welfare and be employed - the difference between working and non working person being merely about 100 euros and complicated taxation for self employed, makes people both german and migrants to quit trying and fall in social net.
14:29 March 10, 2013 by sonriete
We don't like to say it out loud, but I do think this is mostly a question about Roma. There are millions of them in Romania and they are ostrasized and have no prospects of work there and frankly their own governments impose subtle pressure on them to pack up and head west. If you are talking about an ethnic Romanian from Bucharest who has attended schools and simply can't find work at age 25, no one in Bavaria would be in a tizzy, any more than an if an ethnic Spaniard from Madrid came here looking for work, the real Bogey man is millions of Roma arriving by train, as of right and being able to collect benefits after only three months.
14:13 March 14, 2013 by vogel
Hello to all of you! I want to tell you a very short story. I'm a romanian man (31 years old) who visited many times your good country and also who lived for a few months in it. At first, vising Germany for a few times made me and my wife discover that we really want to live there. Why? Because we really fell in love for your country and especially for the german people. For many people this may seem a little strange because "the general belief" (whatever this means) is that germans are "cold". WRONG! Like every nation on the face of the earth, of course Germany has its own "cases", but I found out that the majority is not at all cold, but very friendly (what you give is what you get back from the others). But this is not what I want to tell you; this is only for understanding why me and my wife moved there. Because we didn't moved there because of the money (impossible to believe, right?). I had a very good salary in Romania, working in an office, all the conditions...But me noooo, I want Germany. Well...we moved there and worked as hausdiener (in Baden-Baden) and zimmermaedchen (in Karlsruhe) and of course we paid all our the taxes to the state (as every man/woman in this world should do, no matter if citizen or auslaender). Of course I earned less in Gemany than I earned in Romania (very very good position I had here...Deputy Manager in a chinese transportation company) Because of some personal issues, we came back to Romania for 1 or 2 years, but we still want to move back to Germany and this time for a long period. So, even if I love my country, I have another one in my heart, even if it wasn't easy for me at the beginning (not with the settlement, but because of a few german people who thought that maybe we want something for free or maybe that we came in germany because we were starving in Romania). Therefore, my dear friends, there are many many east europeans which come here in good faith/honest-minded. But, on the other hand, I can't blaim the western people which might feel different about this because of gipsies and others... These things aren't simple...especially because our leaders... All the best folks!
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