Saturday, 16 Oct 2021

EU chaos: German election frontrunner Olaf Scholz’ warning over ‘real difficulty’ for bloc

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The 63-year-old has emerged as the favourite to succeed the outgoing Angela Merkel as German Chancellor at Sunday’s Bundestag election. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate has edged ahead of his rivals, the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock and Armin Laschet of Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU). The trio took part in a 90-minute TV debate yesterday, with Mr Scholz emerging as winner, according to a post-broadcast poll.

The politician is currently Germany’s finance minister and the deputy chancellor of Merkel’s fourth administration.

Mr Scholz has led Germany’s financial recovery from the pandemic, bringing in a generous economic stimulus programme.

As the world still battles COVID-19, the SPD candidate has called for greater European integration as part of the response.

Like Ms Merkel, who will step down at the end of this parliament, Mr Scholz is firmly pro-EU in his outlook.

Earlier this month he told the Bundestag: “Further progress for Europe is the most important national concern that we have in Germany.

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“[We must] ensure that there is no division between north and south and west and east in Europe, but rather that the further integration of Europe succeeds.”

The politician’s rallying cry for greater European cohesion is not the first time he has made such a call.

However, in an unearthed interview with The Guardian from March 2016, while he was still Mayor of Hamburg, the election frontrunner spoke about his concerns over intra-EU migration.

He said: “It is now clear Europe is insufficiently prepared politically and legally to cope with a position where it is possible for 200 million men and women to set off and try their luck in another country.”

Hamburg alone was set to take in tens of thousands of refugees in 2016, and Mr Scholz also raised his concern for the rest of Europe.

He warned that the EU would not be able to launch a bloc-wide welfare system for its member states, adding that even if only 5-10 percent of the population were to move, that would still pose a huge issue.

He added: “The EU is in real difficulty if only 5-10 percent of its population should move to just a few states in search of work, with some failing to find it.”

Mr Scholz’s words came ahead of the June referendum in which the UK voted to leave the EU.

At the time, then-Prime Minister David Cameron had just returned from Brussels where he had secured a major EU concession on migrants’ access to the welfare system in Britain.

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The arrangement allowed Britain to refuse new migrants’ access to in-work benefits for up to four years.

The move was seen as important by Mr Cameron for bolstering support for remaining in the EU ahead of the referendum.

The Conservative Party leader faced opposition over Britain’s membership of the EU from the public, as well as his own backbench Tory MPs.

Mr Scholz, who was in the UK to speak at the London School of Economics Anglo-German symposium, suggested that EU nations may need to emulate Britain’s migration strategy.

He argued that one possibility could be to allow migrants permanent access to benefits in a country as long as they have worked there on at least minimum wage for a year or more.

He said: “The sensible solution lies in linking the social benefits that EU citizens receive outside of their countries of origin with the work they have performed.”

The politician went on to explain that an overhaul of the EU’s patchwork of different welfare programmes was needed.

He said: “If we recognise that free movement of labour is one of the opportunities of the EU, and sometimes the best way to increase your income, it is necessary to be very careful how we organise that right he said.

“If we do not think about this now, in five or 10 years’ time, we may not be able to solve the problem because it has become too big and no one is willing to compromise.”

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