News / Europe

Germany Threatens to Veto Passport-Free Travel for Bulgaria, Romania

A member of Romania's ethnic Roma minority arrives at Bucharest airport, Aug. 9, 2012.
A member of Romania's ethnic Roma minority arrives at Bucharest airport, Aug. 9, 2012.
Michael Scaturro
Germany and the European Union's executive commission are at odds over plans to widen a passport-free travel accord in Europe known as the Schengen Agreement.  Bulgaria and Romania have asked to join the agreement, winning support from Austria.  But Germany has threatened to veto the deal, saying it fears that members of the Roma (gypsy) communities from Bulgaria and Romania will stream into Germany and abuse the welfare system. 

At Rixdorf Elementary School in Berlin, the vaccination program is open to everyone, but borough superintendent Franziska Giffey says it is primarily targeted towards Roma children who have just arrived in Germany and have never been vaccinated.

"We have almost 100 kids, meanwhile, and we will continue this action to make a lot of kids vaccinated," Giffey says. "The parents are very willing to do this, and they come here, and they get advice, and they agree with this action, and the kids get this normal, basic vaccination, which normally small babies would get."

About 93 percent of students in the school are from migrant backgrounds -- with most speaking Turkish, Arabic, or Polish at home.  New to the mix are youngsters from Bulgaria and Romania.  About 800 of them are now part of the district's student population, up 30 percent from the last school year.  Teachers here say they do not ask the children whether they are Roma, but some of the parents have volunteered this information -- while others are reluctant to talk about it, fearing discrimination.

And their fears may be justified.  While school officials here welcome the children, Giffey said at a press conference Tuesday that some locals have reacted angrily.

Giffey says that after the vaccination program was made public, locals sent her critical letters accusing her of wasting taxpayer money.  They wanted her to not help the Roma children in the hopes that these families would leave Berlin.  But Giffey says these families are coming here for a better life -- and that it is their right to do so as European Union citizens.

It could be that anti-Roma voices are taking their cues from Germany's interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative coalition government.  German newspapers have accused him of combining the issue of expanding the 26-member Schengen -- essentially Europe's outermost border -- with legal migration of EU citizens from Romania and Bulgaria.

Cordula Simon manages Berlin's relationship with the EU.  She says Germany's conservative parties are trying to score political points off the Roma issue ahead of elections later this year.

"In this year, we will elect a new federal government.  It's a political thing," Simon says. "If you ask people at the grassroots level who are dealing with the issue in Duisburg, Dortmund, and Berlin-Neukölln, they would tell you a different opinion -- that we can act with the people."

Simon says the Roma children speak German fluently within three months of arriving in schools.  What's more, their parents are pushing them to excel and eagerly bringing their children to events like the vaccination program.  Simon says Germany, which is facing a demographic crisis, must invest in its immigrant children if it is to have a future.

"We need this coming to Berlin -- not just the academics, who often come without children," Simon says. "We also need families with children that are brought up in the system."

But Germany's conservative parties are likely to disagree -- at least until after the elections.

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs