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German report
by Euro Reporter
2014-01-13 11:09:45
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Welfare debate stokes bad blood between Germany and EU

Christian Social Union (CSU) General Secretary Andreas Scheuer has called the EU Commission's statement making the rounds in German newspapers since Friday (10.01.2013) "Eurocratic madness." The document has been interpreted as claiming that Germany should not be permitted to deny immigrants from the EU welfare assistance. The EU Commission's statement has poured fuel on the fire of a raging national debate in Germany about migrants from less prosperous EU countries coming to the country and claiming benefits. The Bavaria-based CSU - the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) - has been flaunting its views with the slogan "those who commit fraud will be [kicked] out," claiming that migrant workers could exploit German welfare programs. The Commission's statements were made in reference to a case currently being conducted at the European Court of Justice concerning a Romanian woman and her son. The two have been living in Germany since 2010 but have been denied unemployment and social benefits.  The CSU has made the idea that Germans and EU-foreigners receive the same unemployment benefits a central part of its election campaign. Bavarian state elections are scheduled for March and elections for the European Parliament will be held in May. To that effect, the CSU's General Secretary Scheuer expressed himself clearly: "The German social welfare system is not a self-service convenience store for all the Europeans that come to our country," he said on Friday in Munich. He expressed his shock at how the "EU Commission is frivolously torpedoing the national social security system."

berlin_400"If bureaucrats in their deluxe offices at the EU Commission in Brussels think they can interfere with our national social security system, then there will be fierce resistance from the CSU," Scheuer added. Back in Berlin, the still fresh coalition agreement between Merkel's CDU, the CSU and the SPD includes an entire chapter on integration and immigration. But, it expresses the new government's policy in a rather vague way: "We want to safeguard acceptance of the EU's freedom of movement policy. Therefore, we will counteract unwarranted claims by EU citizens for social welfare benefits." The document does not explain how the government would 'counteract' such claims, however. A working group with members from different government ministries is set to clarify the issue in the coming months. Asked about the issue, German government spokesman Steffen Seibert emphasized that decisions about social legislation are a national matter, and that the current practice of restricting social welfare for immigrants would be retained for the time being. He repeatedly dodged the question of how the government, or even Chancellor Angela Merkel, had reacted to the EU Commission's statement.

The EU Commission on Friday backpeddled, denying its previous statements. It published a clarification stating that Germany certainly does not have to grant benefits to all unemployed EU citizens. Any information to the contrary is, "of course completely false," said EU Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen. EU Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding had already told an EU interior ministers meeting on December 5, 2013 that the freedom of movement for workers does not automatically equate with a claim to welfare benefits. Many of the 28 EU member countries have unclear legislation on the issue. In Britain, there are very strict checks to determine whether or not a migrant qualifies for benefits. By contrast, the Netherlands is rather accommodating. In official EU documents, Finland states that social assistance is really only a last resort and that each individual case is decided by local authorities. What all EU countries have in common, however, is that after five years of contiguous residency EU citizens can apply for welfare assistance in the country where they are living. The EU Commission also pointed out that any municipalities with financial difficulties can apply to the European Commission for financial aid to cope with any influx of EU citizens.


Despite dim prospects, Syrian exodus to Germany continues

Human rights officials say the Syrian civil war is creating Europe's biggest refugee crisis in decades, but that countries across the continent are doing little about it. Most European nations are refusing to take in Syrian refugees, choosing instead to send money to the United Nations and other international agencies. The few EU countries like Germany that are welcoming Syrians only offer refuge to a few thousand out of the more than 2 million Syrians who have fled their homeland. But the cool reception isn't stopping Syrians from risking their lives to get to Europe. There are many smiling faces at the Friedland transit camp in the German state of Lower Saxony. There, Syrian refugee children play outside pristine barracks on a warm winter day.

A few Syrian men unwind nearby with an informal game of soccer. One of those kicking the ball around is 23-year-old Ibrahim. The sports teacher, who doesn't want to give his last name, says he spent everything he had and borrowed a lot more to pay smugglers $7,000 to get him here from the Syrian capital Damascus. He says he travelled by boat from Turkey to Greece, where the police beat him and other refugees. Ibrahim got away. He says he later travelled by train from Italy to the German city of Dortmund, where he turned himself in to police and asked for asylum. Like many at the camp, Ibrahim is relieved to be among the lucky few who made it to Germany. And like them, he fears his luck will turn and that he'll be sent back to Syria.

"We hear a lot of good things about Germany and how they treat refugees. I'd like to work here and continue my university studies," Ibrahim says. "But of course I'm worried they are going to kick me out." His concern is understandable. Germany is one of 14 European countries that deported dozens of Syrian asylum seekers last year. Officials say that's because of a treaty that requires migrants seeking entry to Europe to be processed by the first EU country they arrive in. Most of them ended up in Bulgaria, which lacks the means to handle the influx and is widely accused of mistreating Syrian refugees. UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva, is one of a growing number of groups calling on European governments to stop deporting refugees, even if they arrive illegally. "What we want here is for Europe to ensure that those Syrians who are fleeing persecution, fleeing the desperate situation and the war in Syria, are given the protection that they need," says Dan McNorton, a UNHCR spokesman.


Germany introduces Islamic education

Schools in the central German state of Hesse have started to offer Islamic education for primary school Muslim students, placing Islam on equal footing with the official Protestant and Catholic learning. “They come here with such different backgrounds,” Timur Kumlu, a state-trained teacher at the Islamic instruction program, told New York Times on Tuesday, January 7. “We must educate so that they develop a personality with common roots,” in Germany and in Islam. The classes, offered for the first time in German public schools, started in Hesse to better integrate Muslims in the German society. Following decades of neglect, the classes were part of a growing consensus that Germany was willing to serve its Muslim minority. It was also proposed as a government bid to better integrate the nation’s large Muslim minority and counter the growing influence of what they termed as “radical religious thinking”.

Delivering the Islamic classes, state-trained teachers use specially written textbooks to educate students on their peaceful faith. Welcoming the optional Islamic classes, dozens of vigorous Muslim students have signed-up for at least 29 classes across the immigrant predominated districts. “I think it’s clear now that for years we made the mistake of alienating people,” said Nicola Beer, who as education minister in Hesse was one of several politicians, professors and teachers who pushed for the Islamic instruction. Germans recognize that “we are here together, we work together, and we educate our children together.” Germany has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.

Germans have grown hostile to the Muslim presence recently, with a heated debate on the Muslim immigration into the country. A recent poll by the Munster University found that Germans view Muslims more negatively than their European neighbours. Germany’s daily Der Spiegel had warned last August that the country is becoming intolerant towards its Muslim minority. According to a 2010 nationwide poll by the research institute Infratest-dimap, more than one third of the respondents would prefer "a Germany without Islam."


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