• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

UK and Germany locked in immigration debate

Tom Bristow · 21 Jan 2014, 11:06

Published: 21 Jan 2014 11:06 GMT+01:00

A conservative party calls for new measures to prevent migrants moving abroad to access welfare benefits. The left hits back, defending freedom movement as a cornerstone of the European Union.

A slogan from the conservative party in the ruling coalition government is deemed populist, even racist by the pro-immigration camp - “Those who cheat are out.”

That slogan could have come from UK Prime Minister David Cameron – yet it came from the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian allies of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Its leader Horst Seehofer and Cameron have been singing from the same sheet for weeks in attacking perceived benefit tourism among Romanians and Bulgarians.

“Europe should not block us if we want to have national regulation of poverty-driven migration. It is fatal behaviour for Brussels to shut its eyes to this problem and to curb the possibilities for national measures against poverty-driven migration,” the CSU has said.

And the tone of the debate in both countries had been criticized by the Bulgarian government as populist.

Meanwhile benefit tourism has dominated Germany’s media to the extent that the German word for it - Sozialtourismus - was voted the “non-word of the year” for 2013.

Despite the debate over whether restrictions should be placed on Romanians and Bulgarians arriving in Germany filling hundreds of pages in the country’s newspapers, the media is less screechy and populist than in Britain for obvious historical reasons.

Headlines from the Daily Express, The Sun, Daily Mail in Britain on immigration are distasteful in Germany. “Stop new EU migrants flooding in to Britain” would not be found in the German media.

Nora Hesse from think-tank Open Europe Berlin told The Local: “You don’t expect the same level of hysteria in Germany. When the CSU say ‘send them back home,’ it is immediately called populist.

“But both debates focus on two different issues – one is about freedom of movement and the other is access to welfare.”

And this is where the countries diverge. The debate over benefit tourism is based on the same fears. The tone may differ but the worries are the same – migrants will put a burden on our public services and come to take advantage of our generous welfare state.

But in the issue linked to it - the debate over freedom of movement within the EU - Germany will always fall on the side of freedom of movement and the principles of the EU. A poll in December found 55 percent of Germans thought the institution was a "good thing" compared to 26 percent of Britons.

Germany’s Social Democrat foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the start of January that whoever questions freedom of movement “damages Europe and damages Germany".

There is no such voice in Britain’s coalition government. Pro-European Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg signed off an article by Cameron in the Financial Times in November calling for a crackdown on EU immigration.

Cameron describes freedom of movement as a “central principle of the EU” but not a “completely unqualified one”.

He questions freedom of movement more than any other EU leader. "When other countries join the European Union we should be insisting on longer transitions and perhaps even saying until you reach a proper share of an average European Union GDP you can't have freedom of movement.

"Perhaps saying until your economy, until your wealth is similar to our wealth you can't have unrestricted movement,” Cameron said in December, before work and travel restrictions were lifted on Bulgarians and Romanians on January 1st.

He has be harder line than Merkel, who publically has stayed out of the debate. A politician from her party, Elmar Brok, who called for Bulgarian and Romanian migrants to be finger-printed was slapped down by her CDU while the Romanian Prime minister accused him of having a "Nazi mind-set".

The German Chancellor, with no Nigel Farage figure to worry about (the leader of the UK Independence Party) and calmer headlines, has let the left and right wings of her coalition scrap it out.

Whereas Cameron is in the frontline of the argument, Merkel has moved just once to respond to benefit immigration fears – she sent the issue to a cabinet working group.

CLICK HERE for more analysis and opinion

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tom Bristow (tom.bristow@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Germany says 'won't let anyone take Europe from us'
Steinmeier called the European Union “a successful project of peace and stability”. Photo: DPA

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Saturday that the EU would weather the shock of the British vote to leave the union as he convened crisis talks.

Brexit vote
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
A sign in Berlin's tech giant and startup-building company Rocket Internet. Photo: DPA.

London is currently thought of as the main hub for startups in Europe, but that will all turn around when the UK leaves the EU, tech industry experts say.

Brexit vote - Analysis
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
British Leave campaigners celebrate Brexit result. Photo: DPA

Britain leaving the EU means trouble ahead for Germany - and its hardest task will be convincing the Brits to drop a self-defeating ideology, a leading foreign policy expert told The Local.

How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Photo: DPA.

Considering a change of passport after the UK's vote to ditch the EU? Here’s how to do it.

Germany makes fracking verboten
A sign in North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA.

German lawmakers approved a law that essentially bans fracking, ending years of dispute over the controversial technology to release oil and gas locked deep underground.

Brexit vote
German far right 'cries for joy' after UK votes to leave EU
Left to right: AfD's Beatrix von Storch and Frauke Petry. Photo: DPA

The far-right AfD party called for a "new Europe" and the resignation of the EU's top two politicians in the wake of the Brexit vote.

Brexit vote
Merkel: Brexit has cut into European unity
Angela Merkel at a press conference after the Brexit vote on Friday. Photo: DPA.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday that the UK's decision to leave the EU has created a "cut in Europe" and the project of European unity.

Couple copulating on bridge shut down Autobahn
Kaiserlei Bridge in Frankfurt. Photo: Dontworry / Wikimedia Commons.

It was a highly unusual choice of location for a romantic rendezvous, police in Frankfurt point out.

Brexit vote
Germany: Brexit vote is a 'sad day for Europe'
A British flag along with other flags of European Union member countries flies in front of the European Council building in Strasbourg, France. Photo: EPA.

Top German leaders declared that it was a "sad day for Europe" after British voters opted to leave the European Union.

Viernheim hostage-taker wasn't carrying lethal weapon
A police officer stands guard in front of the cinema in Viernheim. Photo: DPA

The 19-year-old German man who took over a dozen people hostage in a cinema in western Germany on Thursday was carrying replica weapons, prosecutors have confirmed.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
Sponsored Article
Education abroad: How to find an international school
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
US expats: Taxes are due June 15th
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Gallery
7 photos which show the aftermath of Bavaria's Autobahn bridge collapse
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Sport
How to sound like an expert on German football this summer
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
Features
6 reasons Germany's summer is unbeatable for thrill-seekers
National
The future belongs to these 10 German regions
Society
How pictures of footballers on chocolates made Pegida really mad
Health
New father's tragic herpes warning touches 1000s online
National
Bayer's Monsanto takeover would be 'diabolical': environmentalists
7,931
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd