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Germany plans to punish EU benefits abusers

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(BERLIN) - Germany said Wednesday it planned to punish EU migrants who abuse its welfare benefit system after a warning about Romanians and Bulgarians touched off a national debate.

The government adopted an interim report outlining measures if EU citizens are found to have abused their rights under the bloc's free movement of people and workers' rules.

These include banning culprits from returning to Germany for a certain period, introducing a time limit on finding a job in the country and reinforcing the criteria for child benefit.

The 133-page report was drawn up by a commission created in January to study the possible abuse of welfare payments by EU migrants. A final, more specific report is due in June.

"We must not close our eyes to the fact that problems linked to immigration exist," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.

But he was also at pains to stress that an increase in immigrants was "good news" for Europe's top economy, which is struggling with an ageing and shrinking population.

Lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bavarian-based sister CSU party sparked controversy earlier in the year by calling for stricter measures, using the slogan "whoever cheats is out".

It triggered a debate following the full opening of the European labour market to Bulgarians and Romanians on January 1.

The number of Romanians and Bulgarians living Germany has increased in recent years.

More than 60,000 Bulgarians and 120,000 Romanians arrived in Germany in 2012.

Berlin also plans to make about 200 million euros ($275 million) available to help German communities that are particularly affected by the influx of immigrants.

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