Chancellor Angela Merkel has dramatically reversed her position that her country could not take unlimited numbers of refugees seeking asylum from the chaos of the Mideast and North Africa.
We give her the benefit of the doubt: She changed her mind in the light of the enormous human tragedy taking place in Syria where as many as 220,000 have died in a cataclysmic civil war with millions sent into exile. The refugee flow out of the region has further dimensions; there are large numbers of people fleeing both Iraq and Afghanistan. And across the Mediterranean, large numbers are moving not only out of the chaos of Libya, but beyond the Desert, from Central and West Africa. The new German welcome this year will total 800,000 refugees in a population of 80 million, and the flow is on the increase.
The German welcome is stunning given the bitter history of that country’s minorities. This is not a generation which can be blamed in any way for the murder of its own Jews as well as those other six million of countries it temporarily occupied in World War II. But the experience with German gastabreiters [“guest workers”] during the 1960s and 70s who helped fuel the enormous German prosperity also has a troubled history. It was assumed that these workers, mostly Turks, would remain for two years. But when the agreement ended in 1973, it was clear that most, largely men, would not return to Turkey where there were no jobs and when German unemployment and other social welfare benefits were accorded them.
By 2010, there were some 10 million Turkish-speaking residents, many offspring of the original immigrants, but they were only partially schooled in German, and were not, for the most part, citizens. [Germany like most European nations uses jus sangjuinis, “the right of blood”, rather than place of birth as in the U.S. to grant citizenship.] Such questions as Christian sponsorship of much of German education, the growing Islamicist revivalism, traditional issues such as womne’s rights and headscarfs as a symbol of the veil, aggravated the overall problem of becoming “German”. Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund [people with a migratory background] is still a common term for these minority members born in Germany.
Now Germany proposes to absorb increasing numbers of Arabs and Black Africans – with the bitter experience of their neighbor France with its Muslim “no-go” North African ghettoes.
Why has the German mood turned around?
Implicity, although rarely discussed except in erudite economic terms, is Germany’s rapidly declining birthrate. It is producing a labor shortage and severe economic problems. So much so that Niklas Potrafke of the prestigious Ifo Institute argues Germany should spend this year’s budget surplus of $7.8 to $10 billion euros on refugees. “If Germany gets this right, it may just be solving part of its demographic problem for the next decade,” said Holger Schmieding, economist at Berenberg Bank.
That demographic threat is a serious obstacle to continued German prosperity. By 2060 there will be fewer than two Germans under 65 to work and generate taxes to support each German over 65. That means that age-related spending on pensions, health and long-term care is expected to rise a hefty five percentage points of national income by 2060.
Other Europeans are grumbling that Angela Merkel is creaming off the most economically useful of the asylum seekers, those exhibiting the ambition to risk life and limb fleeing to Europe. Other Europeans pushed by humanitarian concerns, will pick up the poorest, less educated, wounded physically and spiritually, at the bottom of the refugee barrel.
But taking in large numbers of young men who may not share nor want to learn German traditional values is a gamble that might threaten future governance in what is a rapidly diminishing traditional German polity.