UK

Romanian And Bulgarian Immigration: 'Relaxing Controls To Be Vetoed By Germany'

04/03/2013 14:01 GMT

Germany's interior minister has said the country will veto the relaxation of immigration restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians to travel across the whole of the EU amid concern over widespread corruption in the countries.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said if the issue goes to vote, Germany will veto the move to allow Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen visa area.

Friedrich raised concerns over the potential abuses that could arise from allowing Bulgaria and Romania into the area, telling the magazine: "Those who acquire a visa through bribery could travel all the way to Germany without further controls."

interior minister hanspeter friedrich

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich with Angela Merkel

He also highlighted fears that some immigrants could merely travel to Germany to receive benefits, saying "those who only come to receive social welfare, and thus abuse the freedom of movement, they must be effectively prevented from doing so". He said he would like to crack down on attempted welfare fraud with greater penalties.

Friedrich's concerns over so-called 'benefit tourism' echo fears from some quarters in Britain, with ministers reportedly considering welfare changes to be rushed in before Bulgarian and Romanian citizens gain full rights to move to the UK at the end of the year.

Ministers were said to be considering making immigrants wait for up to a year after settling in the UK before being able to seek hospital care including operations, though it is understood that emergency and ante-natal treatment would be excluded from the clampdown.

The proposed changes could form part of a drive to restrict immigrants' access to benefits, council homes and public services.

Any restrictions would have to be based on residency, rather than nationality, in order to comply with EU laws - meaning that British nationals might also be required to prove their entitlement.

"We have to operate within the law, including EU single market law," Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said.

"It is my understanding that one can't discriminate between EU nationalities within that law."

However, the spokesman poured cold water on suggestions that people might be required to show "entitlement cards" to prove their right to treatment or benefits, saying that the PM's opposition to ID cards remained "unchanged".

The spokesman said that a Cabinet sub-committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, had met "several" times to discuss the issue of migrants' access to benefits and that it was expected to come to a conclusion "in due course".

"There is an ongoing process of discussion of a range of options," the spokesman told a daily Westminster media briefing.

"There is the usual process of considering options, but we are not at the announcement stage yet."

Asked what evidence the government had that welfare tourism was a problem, the spokesman replied: "I think there is a widespread public concern around the pressures around some services, be it housing, local authority services or the NHS.

"There is a widespread sense of concern and that is what the government is considering how best to respond to."