Dole rights of migrants to Germany cut by regulation


LAST YEAR, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked – somewhat controversially – that a crisis-wracked Europe was once again speaking German.

In Germany, however, the language of the crisis – increasingly audible on city streets – is Spanish, Italian and Greek.

Faced with hopeless job prospects at home, young Spaniards and Greeks are heading to search for work in Europe’s largest economy, as it is largely insulated from the surrounding turbulence.

While they hunt for a job, these young EU citizens once were entitled to basic German dole of €374 a month plus benefits.

Mutual welfare entitlements have been part of the European landscape since the signing of the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance in 1953.

When it came into force a year later, all signatories, including Ireland, agreed to extend to citizens from other signatory countries the same welfare entitlements as their own citizens.

Today, some 17 countries are signatories of the convention, including non-EU members such as Norway and Turkey.

But the German labour ministry has now acted to block immediate welfare payments to arrivals from other members of the convention.

“We will not help solve problems in Greece or Spain by attracting people to our welfare system,” said a labour ministry spokesman.

He said the aim of the change, enacted last month, was to harmonise treatment of immigrants from all EU member states.

Previously, citizens from non-convention countries in the EU, such as Austria, Finland and Poland, were entitled to receive basic payments only after three months.

Pointing to an EU obligation to treat citizens of member states equally, the spokesman added that a continuation of this “would have created problems with Brussels”.

This discrepancy arose two years ago when a Frenchman took a case against the German labour office for its refusal to pay him welfare benefits in the first three months of his arrival.

The court found in his favour and ruled that the labour office was in violation of the assistance convention.

The new regulation reinstates the pre-2010 situation where non-German nationals with permanent, full-time residency are entitled to unemployment benefit only after working for at least a year, and basic dole payments three months after arriving.

Opposition politicians in Germany have reacted with surprise to the change and suspect the labour ministry is acting pre-emptively in case of a further wave of migration from crisis-hit euro zone neighbours.

A spokesman for the federal labour office said: “In practice, the new regulation will not play a role because very few applications are filed by migrants from convention countries.”

In the last two years, Germany has become a magnet for migrants with figures in 2011 up nearly 20 per cent compared to 2010.

Some 88 per cent of those who arrive are non-German nationals; and nearly two-thirds are from EU countries.

In the first half of 2011, migration from Spain increased by 49 per cent compared to the same period in 2010 – this marks a rise of 2,400 people; immigration from Greece in the same period climbed by 84 per cent or 4,100 people.