Why does Germany want so many refugees? Part Two

In a post last week, I argued that Germany’s main motive for wanting to take in so many Middle Eastern refugees is the desire to cope with short-term labor shortages and long-term population decline. I also pointed out that most European nations face different circumstances and thus don’t share Germany’s motive or enthusiasm.

A few days later, the Washington Post struck the same theme in an article called “The refugee crisis could actually be a boon for Germany.” Anthony Fiola began the article this way:

The rest of Europe may see a crisis as a record number of asylum seekers flood the continent from Syria and other pockets of conflict and poverty. But Germany — the region’s economic powerhouse — is also sensing a golden opportunity.

This fast-graying nation of 81 million is facing a demographic time bomb. With a morbidly low birthrate and a flat-lining population, hundreds of schools have ­already been shuttered. Some neighborhoods, particularly in the increasingly vacant east, have become ghost towns. For Germans, it has raised a serious question: Who will build the Volkswagens and Mercedes of tomorrow?

Enter a record wave of migrants.


Faiola, though, may have overstated the extent to which ordinary Germans desire the record wave of immigrants. The picture accompanying the article features a sign at a soccer match in Hamburg that says: “Say it loud, say it clear; refugees are featured here.” Oddly, the sign is in English.

Still, I don’t doubt that the refugees are far more welcome in Germany than just about anywhere else in Europe. The reason, I believe, isn’t primarily economic. Rather, it’s down to the fact that Middle Eastern immigrants have integrated relatively smoothly into German society.

A very large chunk of the immigrants to Germany come from Turkey, with its secular tradition. Integration hasn’t been seamless, of course. However, to my knowledge Germany, unlike France, hasn’t experienced car burning in the suburbs and the creation of zones in which the police dare not go. There seem to be fewer stories like this one from Reims coming out of Germany.

German Turks, I’m told, tend to support the German national soccer team (although I noticed that the several Turkish-origin players who started for Germany against Scotland last week did not join the German-German players in singing the national anthem). Immigrants and their children can even be seen wearing jerseys with names like Reus, Schweinsteiger, Muller, and Gotze.

By contrast, it’s my understanding that support of the French national team among North Africans immigrants is spotty and more oriented towards particular players of North African descent such as Zidane or, nowadays, Benzema.

In sum, the German experience with immigrants has been considerably more agreeable than the French experience and, most likely, the general experience throughout Europe.

Will this remain true if Germany takes in a few million members of the current Middle Eastern wave? Conceivably. This wave consists, the Post says, of a goodly proportion of highly educated or skilled workers and includes doctors, engineers and architects. Integrating them will likely be less challenging than integrating a less educated and skilled cohort.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if, over time, the German experience with immigrants begins more closely to resemble that of France.