German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Germany will take 800,000 refugees this year and 500,000 annually over the next several years. Merkel no doubt will receive acclaim for humanitarianism, while nations that balk at taking refugees will be denounced.
I don’t doubt that there is a humanitarian component to Merkel’s decision, and in some respects her willingness to take in so many refugees is a feel good story. But keep in mind that Germany has an economic interest in bringing in young workers, and that this interest isn’t mirrored in many other EU member states.
Germany faces a severe labor shortage, both short-term and long-term. A study by the Robert Bosch foundation suggested that Germany’s workforce could shrink by about 6 million by 2030.
The main cause of the labor shortage is, as one would expect, population decline. This summer, the Telegraph reported:
Germany’s birth rate has collapsed to the lowest level in the world and its workforce will start plunging at a faster rate than Japan’s by the early 2020s, seriously threatening the long-term viability of Europe’s leading economy.
A study by the World Economy Institute in Hamburg (HWWI) found that the average number of births per 1,000 population dropped to 8.2 over the five years from 2008 to 2013, further compounding a demographic crisis already in the pipeline. Even Japan did slightly better at 8.4.
“No other industrial country is deteriorating at this speed despite the strong influx of young migrant workers. Germany cannot continue to be a dynamic business hub in the long-run without a strong jobs market,” warned the institute. . . .
The German government expects the population to shrink from 81m to 67m by 2060 as depressed pockets of the former East Germany go into “decline spirals” where shops, doctors’ practices, and public transport start to shut down, causing yet more people to leave in a vicious circle.
Population decline in Europe isn’t confined to Germany. As the Telegraph suggests, however, Germany represents a special case.
Moreover, short-term labor shortages don’t plague most of Europe. To the contrary, many European countries struggle with high unemployment rates.
It’s fair to question, therefore, whether Germany is motivated primarily by altruism in agreeing to take in millions of immigrants and whether it is being reasonable in expecting other nations, especially struggling ones, to take in a significant number of them.
It is also fair to question Merkel’s bargain from a German point of view, though the answer must be supplied by Germans. Yes, the immigrants will help solve the labor and population shortfall. But they will also transform the nature of Germany, as Merkel acknowledges.
Do Germans want the transformation that’s in store?
Don’t be surprised if this question becomes a central one in German politics. And don’t be surprised if, while it’s being debated, the transformation continues apace.