Open borders and open societies do us good!

20.02.2014 - Interview

Article by Minister of State Michael Roth. Published in the Handelsblatt on 20 February 2014.


Europe has been beset by a ghost – the ghost of unchecked mass immigration. It has been haunting our continent for weeks. Be it the ramifications of “poverty immigration” in certain German communities or the referendum in Switzerland: ever too often we are given the impression that national social security systems will be run dry and that a massive loss of jobs for locals will loom if we do not impose strict controls on immigration.

Such debates shake Europe to the core. The right of EU citizens’ to freely choose where they would like to live or work is one of the greatest achievements of the Union. Indeed Europe is more than just a single market. Europe is above all an area of freedom in which people of different origins are free to determine for themselves how to live their lives.

How can we persuade even those who are not directly involved of the merits of the free movement of persons? We must not ignore the population’s concerns however. Instead, we must use the facts to allay them when they are unfounded. And in places where immigration does indeed lead to problems we must resolve them, with solidarity and without throwing basic European freedoms overboard. This is how we differentiate ourselves from the populists who conceal the idea that the majority of existing problems can be better solved on the national, regional or local level. A citizen-oriented Europe also means that the EU does not control everything.

First of all the facts: Germany has benefited enormously from the freedom of movement for workers and from the free movement of goods. 60% of our exports go to the EU, this ensures jobs and prosperity. In the future we will be ever more reliant on skilled workers immigrating – from nurses to IT specialists – in order to maintain our economic strength and level of social security. In the midst of this heated debate the fact that the freedom of movement for workers actually alleviates the burden on our social security system is often swept under the carpet. Overall, mobile EU citizens contribute more to our social security coffers than they take out – this is the case for pensions, unemployment and health insurance.

However, it is also true that the social and economic problems linked to immigration are concentrated in certain economically underdeveloped areas. We must promote a peaceful atmosphere in these deprived areas – we must fund education and integration programmes. The Federal Government takes the concerns of the affected communities seriously and will propose concrete aid measures before the summer break. If German companies shamelessly exploit migrants seeking to pick up casual jobs then this is a crime and must be punished as such.

Many Europeans come here because, due to the poor living conditions in their country of origin, they see no future there. We must therefore do everything that we can to overcome the wealth inequalities within Europe through a proper European social and employment policy. In order to do this we need a Europe which views the mobility of its citizens as an opportunity and not a burden. If this succeeds, then the spectre of mass immigration may finally be banished from people’s minds.

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