The German Marshall Fund NGO has sharply criticized what is described as Germany’s “skewed immigration debate,” particularly concerning immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria. In the context of the upcoming German parliamentary elections, Senior Transatlantic Fellow for Immigration & Integration in the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin Office Tanja Wunderlich questions the term “poverty migration,” which she said has become something of a buzz word in the German media since it was used in a German Association of Cities report.
“The most obvious problem is that “poverty migration” is not a neutral, quantifiable term. Rather, it conjures up latent fears of mass immigration and the potential abuse of the German social welfare system,” said Wunderlich. She added that viewing all immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria as “poor and welfare-dependent” is inaccurate and quoted figures that show the vast majority (80 percent) of Romanians and Bulgarians who have arrived in Germany since 2007 are gainfully employed.
The direction of the debate could have a negative economic impact on Germany, according to the author, who suggested that the country’s economy currently needs immigration. Referring to the figures in the German Association of Cities report, which used the much aped term “poverty migration,” Thomas Bauer of the Rhenish-Westphalian Institute for Economic Research said they were “the un-statistics of the month,” quoted by the German Marshall Fund.
The narrative in Germany bears an uncanny resemblance to the hysteria in the UK, where voices from the political right, particularly UKIP and the right wing press, are inciting xenophobia and then using it to serve an anti-EU agenda, with the end of transitional controls on Romanians and Bulgarians in 2014 providing the focal point around which to stoke fears. Comment in both countries raises worries over potential abuse of welfare systems, despite the figures for employment among immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria suggesting quite the contrary.
“Sweeping generalizations are adding unnecessary emotion to the debate,” said Tanja Wunderlich on the situation in Germany, but she could quite easily have been referring to the UK. With elections on the way, she doesn’t expect things to improve. “Unfortunately, we can expect the German immigration debate to become more emotional, polarized, and radicalized in the run-up to the election,” she said.
Wunderlich urged a more rational discussion “to address the issue squarely and approach receiving society mistrust with active measures to promote acceptance and social cohesion.” She suggested looking for regional and local solutions in German towns and cities, saying that both the immigrants and the hosts should be taken into account.
The German Marshall Fund also raised the Roma discrimination issue, echoing the ongoing calls from human rights groups to both the EU and individual Member States to urgently address the marginalization, prejudice and discrimination faced by Roma communities across Europe. “Ultimately, the fate of the Roma in the European Union will be the yardstick by which European integration, solidarity, and social justice will be tested,” said Tanja Wunderlich.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) aims to promote transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global issues and opportunities. GMF supports individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, bringing together leaders and members of the policy and business communities, contributing research and analysis and providing exchange opportunities.
GMF also supports initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization, GMF has a considerable presence in both the US and Europe. Headquartered in Washington DC, GMF has offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Tunis. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.
Liam Lever, email@example.com
(photo source: sxc.hu)