As January rolled in, the only Romanians and Bulgarians on buses and planes out of Sofia or Bucharest were off on holiday or were already studying elsewhere in the EU. Bus companies complained of half-empty buses. The aircraft flying from Romania and Bulgaria to London and other European capital cities weren’t, as many had predicted, full of immigrants gagging for benefits. Despite desperate searches by journalists at airports and bus stations, there was hardly a Romanian or Bulgarian émigré to be found. Meanwhile the immigration debate in Munich reached its nadir.
It’s generally accepted that to discredit immigration you have to take a highly simplified approach. Addressing the issue in its full complexity presents a very different reality.
The Bavarian CSU party has led the way: “Wer betrügt, der fliegt” they say- “Whoever cheats, flies.” In other words, immigrants who abuse social welfare in Germany should be deported. It seems that taking a stand against welfare fraud gives you political carte-blanche to say what you like. Indignation against benefit fraud is selectively applied by politicians. Those politicians currently riling themselves up against scrounging immigrants gladly avert their eyes from tax evasion in the upper echelons of society. Immigrants on meagre social benefits bear the brunt of society’s suspicion. “Im Zweifel gegen Immigranten” (Doubts about immigrants), so the saying goes. Meanwhile, the wind from the Bavarian shitstorm has already veered off in another direction. Online debates rage as to where the president of FC Bayern Munich, Uli Hoeness, will toddle off to, if shortly convicted of tax evasion.
The slogan “Whoever cheats, flies” insinuates that immigrants seek to exploit the social welfare system in particularly insidious ways. In this vein Elmar Brok of the CDU party has called for benefit cheating immigrants to be finger-printed. Such an oppressive absurdity would foment further suspicion towards immigrants.
In so doing, the pertinent facts about immigration are effectively sidetracked. In Germany, expressed as a percentage, people from Romania and Bulgaria are no more likely to claim benefits than Germans. As for the much discussed “poverty migration”, there’s nothing of the sort. In many cases, immigrants shore up the gaps that appear in the German labour market. Many jobs are created through the ideas of the newcomers.
Scoring political points at the expense of immigrants is not a phenomenon solely reserved to Germany. In the United Kingdom, the Polish are on average better educated than the British and make considerable contributions to the country’s economic performance. Not to mention the fact that the legion of 2.2 million Brits settled across the EU wouldn’t be too keen to be perceived as second-class citizens.
Too often are cases conflated into the theme of immigration, ones which clearly bear no similarities to one another. The term “Sozialtourismus” (Social welfare tourism) has thus gone on to win the accolade of the nastiest phrase in German-speaking regions. Rightly so, seeing as immigration has nothing to do with tourism, a phenomenon synonymous with subsidisation. Immigrants who move to other European countries can usually only claim benefits after three months. The deplorable propaganda coming out of Munich and London doesn’t exactly entice people to immigrate into hot nests of stigma. That would be shit for everyone.