Germany to limit jobless benefits for other EU citizens

BERLIN – The German government on Wednesday approved legislation that would prevent citizens of other European Union nations who haven’t worked in Germany from claiming full jobless benefits in their first five years as residents.

The Cabinet’s decision followed a federal court ruling last year that nationals of the other 27 EU countries can seek jobless and other welfare payments after six months. Labor Minister Andrea Nahles’ plan, under which foreign EU claimants who haven’t worked would be entitled only to “bridging payments” for one month, requires parliamentary approval.

EU countries must allow full labour market access to other members’ citizens. However, the EU’s highest court has ruled in previous cases that Germany was entitled to refuse or cut off unemployment benefits to EU immigrants who made little or no effort to find work.

With the decision, “we are strengthening trust in the European idea one if its greatest achievements: freedom of movement for workers,” Nahles said in a statement. “And we are protecting our municipalities, which have to shoulder welfare payments, from excessive financial demands.”

Concern about perceived abuse of EU workers’ freedom of movement and of welfare systems has mounted in recent years, particularly in Britain.

In February, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron secured concessions on the payment of child benefits to other EU countries’ citizens to help persuade Britons to stay in the EU. Still, British voters narrowly voted to leave the bloc in a June referendum.

New British Prime Minister Theresa May has signalled that she’s prepared to prioritize immigration curbs in exit negotiations with the EU.