The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper has seen a leaked directive from the Labour Ministry to the Federal Employment Agency - dated February 23 – which bars people who move to Germany from 14 EU countries, plus Norway, Iceland and Turkey, from claiming the basic unemployment benefit known as Hartz IV.
The European Union countries banned include Greece, Spain and Portugal, which has led the German media to interpret the move as an attempt to head off people moving to Germany before they have found work.
Up until now, immigrants from the 17 signatories to the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance (EFA), signed in 1953, were entitled to claim unemployment benefit in each other’s countries while they looked for work. The ministry has effectively unilaterally ended this agreement, justifying the move by saying that all EU immigrants should be entitled to equal benefit rights.
EU immigrants have only been able to claim benefits in Germany since October 2010, when a French man used the EFA agreement to claim the right in a federal court. Since then, the German job centre has had to pay benefits to immigrants from EFA signatories even if they have come to Germany exclusively to look for work.
“To give EU citizens entitlement to Hartz IV from day one does run the risk of abuse, since anyone can say they are looking for a job,” Ferdinand Wollenschläger, a European law professor from the University of Augsburg told the paper. “But you have to ask how realistic it is that young, educated Spanish people leave their home country to live on Hartz IV in Germany.”
The opposition said it was mystified by the ministry’s decision. “The number of immigrants that start claiming Hartz IV as soon as they arrive is almost zero,” Elke Ferner, deputy parliamentary chairwoman of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) told the Frankfurter Rundschau.
The Federal Employment Office also said that the directive would have little effect on its work, since immigrants heading straight into the social security system were seen “only in individual cases.” They described the Labour Ministry’s move as a “preventative measure.”