Monday, February 25, 2013

Germany wants EU states to 'tag' foreigners

BERLIN - Germany has suggested the creation of a central database which will electronically tag all foreigners residing in any European Union country, in an effort to combat illegal migration.
While German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich claimed that his country's initiative is aimed at weeding out criminals, the proposal is seen as part of a growing anti-immigrant backlash in Europe.
Britain has just unveiled a raft of additional restrictions, and the French are considering following suit.
As Europe's biggest state and one of few economies not to be affected by the continent's recession, Germany has remained a magnet for immigrants.
Many come from other EU states and fill this rapidly ageing nation's acute need for both low- and high-skilled labour.
Still, the Germans are worried by a spike in the number of illegal, non-EU migrants, mostly Russian and Turkish citizens.
Their total stood at 26,000 people last year, not a great number for Germany's 81-million-strong population, but an 18 per cent increase on the 2011 figures, and probably just the tip of the iceberg.
As part of the Schengen arrangement, which promotes European free movement, Germany has done away with physical checks at its land borders. These are performed by countries on the EU's outer frontiers.
A favourite route for Russians seeking EU entry is via Finland. Once they are on Finnish soil, travel to Germany requires no further checks. There are also no reliable records of people overstaying their visas.
With the German general election due in September, the government is under pressure to plug such gaps: "The chaos in our immigration policy has to stop," said Mr Reinhard Grindel, a senior MP from the ruling Christian Democratic Party.
Germany is proposing a central database to record all those admitted and provide alerts about those overstaying their EU permits. Visitors will be issued with a "token" - an electronic tagging device.
German opposition parties dismissed it as both a violation of human rights and a bureaucratic nightmare.
"What happens if the electronic token gets lost or stolen?" said Mr Memet Kilic, an MP for Germany's Green party and himself of Turkish extraction.
Undaunted, the government has vowed to persevere, although it admits that it may take years to persuade other EU member states.
But the proposal does nothing to address Germany's immediate problem: an influx of people from Romania and Bulgaria, the latest nations to be admitted to the EU.
Roughly 147,000 citizens from those two countries had settled in Germany by 2011 - the most recent year for which official data is available.
Many belong to the Roma - or gypsy - community, whose members suffer a reputation of being inclined towards petty crime and living off state benefits.
Germany is offering cash for the integration of Roma people back home so as to keep the foreign influx down. France has gone further: it has on several occasions deported Roma people.
Meanwhile, Britain has just announced the elimination of loopholes allowing EU citizens to claim British welfare payments.
Both the British and French governments are reacting to heavy public pressure.
A recent opinion poll conducted by Le Monde, France's leading daily, found that 62 per cent of respondents believe they "no longer feel at home" because of immigrants.
And in Britain, where the government is facing a crucial by-election next week, the media is driving the anti-immigrant campaign: a cartoon in The Times daily last week featured Dracula, the mythical Romanian vampire, proclaiming that he is moving to the UK, "to take advantage of its national health service's blood bank".