Germany to withhold welfare from foreign EU nationals

Bill strips non-German EU citizens of all welfare claims in first five years unless they had work

Berlin's grand coalition government is preparing a welfare lock-out for non-German EU citizens during their first five years living in Germany.

The new welfare Bill, leaked from the labour ministry, follows heavy lobbying from local government. They argued their already-strained finances would snap if they had to implement a 2015 German court ruling that EU citizens in Germany were entitled to welfare payments after six months.

Social Democrat (SPD) labour minister Andrea Nahles has reacted with a Bill that strips non-German EU citizens of all claims on the German welfare system in their first five years, unless they have acquired credits by working.

In recent months the minister, a leading member of the SPD’s leftist wing, has made repeated calls to clamp down on so-called welfare tourism.


“It can’t be that someone only has to move to another EU country to extract full social security benefits, even though they have a functioning social system in their own country,” said Ms Nahles in a newspaper interview.

The changes, said to have the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel, would allow a one-off payment to cover living costs for a month, as well as the price of a ticket home. It mirrors a demand of British prime minister David Cameron ahead of the Brexit referendum.

Under German welfare laws, a person who loses their job is entitled to two-thirds of their final salary for a year before dropping down to a basic welfare payment, currently €404 monthly, as well as rental allowance and other payments. This basic payment is available to all German citizens, irrespective of whether they have ever worked.

But last February, the European Court of Justice said Germany was entitled to take steps to curtail “welfare tourism”, dismissing a Spanish family’s claim on arrival in Germany.

Loophole closure

Germany’s federal labour ministry says about 440,000 non-German EU citizens receive benefits. Ms Nahles has conceded there was no “mass storming” of the German welfare system, but insisted it was time to close a loophole.

"Just when you thought the SPD could sink no lower, along comes ex-left-winger Nahles and sorts EU citizens into good and bad," said Jan Korte, deputy leader of the Left Party in parliament.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin