How Syrian refugees are helping to solve a German conundrum

Germany is now perceived as the land of “sanctuary” in Europe, which was once a position occupied by the UK for many years. Certainly after the xenophobia exhibited by the Hungarian government (but not by all Hungarians) and the reluctance of some other European governments to accept refugees (Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, Denmark …..), Angela Merkel has won many brownie points by exhibiting a generosity not visible from other countries. In fact the response means that Germany now occupies the moral high ground. By announcing that they can take up to 500,000 per year for several years, they make other EU countries look like “hardhearted cheapskates”. The UK response, with 20,000 in 5 years makes Ebeneezer Scrooge look generous.  Even the US is shown up by German actions as just one of the group of countries who speak highly about the value of compassion but fail to walk the talk.

The Guardian:

Germany could take 500,000 refugees each year for “several years”, the country’s vice-chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, has said, as fresh clashes broke out overnight between police and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos and thousands of people gathered amid chaotic scenes on the Greek border with Macedonia.

“I believe we could surely deal with something in the order of half a million for several years,” he told ZDF public television. “I have no doubt about that, maybe more.” Germany expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year, four times the total for 2014.

But this generosity is not entirely due to altruism.

In March this year I posted about a study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung which pointed out how Germany needed to have an immigration level of 500,000 per year till 2050 to overcome labour shortages and compensate for an ageing population. It pointed out that “efforts to attract skilled workers from non-EU countries should be intensified.”

The report also pointed out that it would be difficult to maintain the level of skilled immigration needed. It would seem that for Germany to be fairly generous with its approach to Syrian refugees is not just altruism but may well be in Germany’s self-interest. The Syrians generally have a much higher level of education and skills than is evident from refugees originating from Africa and those that stay in Germany may well be able to enter the productive work force much faster.

The Syrian refugees help solve a conundrum that was faced by Germany.

Zuwanderungsbedarf aus Drittstaaten in Deutschland bis 2050

Press Release: Without immigrants, the potential labor force would sink from approximately 45 million today to less than 29 million by 2050 – a decline of 36 percent. This gap cannot be closed without immigration. Even if women were to be employed at the same rate as men, and the retirement age was increased to 70 in 2035, the number of potential workers in the country would rise by only about 4.4 million.

In 2013, a total of 429,000 more people came to Germany than left the country. Last year, the net total was 470,000, the Federal Statistical Office reports. According to the study, net immigration at this level would be sufficient for at least the next 10 years to keep the country’s potential labor force at a constant level. From that time onward, however, the need for immigrants will grow, because the baby-boomer generation will be entering retirement. One out of two of today’s skilled workers with professional training will have left the working world by 2030. …

….. the current high levels of immigration from EU countries (2013: around 300,000) will soon decline significantly, as demographic change is shrinking populations across the European Union, and because incentives to emigrate in crisis-stricken countries will decline with economic recovery. The experts forecast an annual average of just 70,000 immigrants or fewer from EU counties by 2050. For this reason, efforts to attract skilled workers from non-EU countries should be intensified. …

But Angela Merkel is implementing today actions that will be needed by nearly all European countries suffering from a declining fertility and a rapidly ageing population. It is no accident that Germany is probably best placed in Europe to have a chance of maintaining the critical ratio of its working population to its supported population (under 15s and over 65s) beyond 2050.

I begin to see Angela Merkel as being much more long-sighted and much more of a visionary than I have ever given her credit for.

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