The issue was prompted by complaints from German communities claiming that an increasing number of people are arriving from Romania and Bulgaria with the help of organized gangs, obtaining a business license and applying for benefits a few months later under the pretences that the business has been unsuccessful.Friedrich says that those who are found defrauding social services will be expelled from the country, despite the fact that they are granted the right to work and travel throughout the member states as citizens of the European Union.
While the prospect of Germans deporting immigrants (many of them Roma) reminds us of the dark Nazi past, Germany is far from alone in Europe in struggling with how to respond to impoverished immigrants from new EU member-states. Romanians and Bulgarians are frequently stereotyped in Western Europe as grifters and fraudsters. The Dutch have been debating the same issue, while France has been deporting or bribing Roma to leave the country for years.These controversies reveal the cracks in the foundation of the elite project to foster a concept of cosmopolitan “Europeaness.” Despite fervent hopes in Brussels that the expansion of the union would create a “United States of Europe,” strong national identities persist, and European immigrants frequently face hostility when they move to other countries.Perhaps the more troubling issue for many Europeans is the effects of situations like these on national welfare systems. Anti-immigrant sentiment is frequently driven by the perception that foreigners from the east are leeching off Western Europe’s generous welfare systems. Many of these fears are exaggerated, and even strongly tinged with racism, but they persist nonetheless. Considering the budgetary pressures facing many countries already, these fears may lead to a broad scaling-back of the social welfare systems Europe has built up over the past seventy years.[Impoverished Romanian Roma photo courtesy of Getty Images]