Germany has one of the very few national-level consciences on world immigration, but even that is now under threat.
The difference in attitude and processes between the United States and Germany could not be more stark. Since we’ve seen a fair bit about the United States’ issues recently, I thought I’d concentrate on Germany’s approach. Occasional global upsurges in solidarity with refugees remind us of a fundamental reality: immigration is central to the success of the modern world – and in particular Europe.
The self-destructive ageing of Europe’s population is so important that is has led to hilarous focus from some governments.
Before the financial crisis, Europe was on the way to becoming the most open region of the world in migration flows. The rise of European employment following the GFC, terrorism-influenced xenophobia, and a brutal closing of borders, has piled such political pressure that most governments have radically altered from Sweden to Turkey.
The European Union had a population of nearly 510 million in 2015, compared to 485 million in 1995. That’s .2% annual compared to 1.2% for the world population at the same time. Three quarters of that E.U. population growth was due to migration. Between 2000 and 2010, the EU absorbed a flow of immigration of roughly 1 million per year – a level equivalent to the United States, and into a far more culturally and geographically diverse area (Islam remains marginal in the U.S.). When the European area was relatively welcoming, unemployment was falling up until 2007-08.
The United States recovered more quickly from the crisis that it had triggered. It rapidly returned to growth, and immigration held steady at around 1 million per year. But Europe, mired in sterile posturing and division, still hasn’t regained its’ pre-crisis level of activity, resulting in rising unemployment and a closing of borders. While cross-EU net immigration brutally declined between 2000-2015, in 2016 Germany took about 1 million migrants by itself.
The openness shown under the leadership of Angela Merkel to migrants has in the face of massive Europe-wide opposition been an outstanding model.
Germany has little choice given its very low birth rate. Even with high levels of net immigration, Germany’s population will decline from 81 million to 63 million between now and the end of the century.
Germany’s economic growth is due in part to a gigantic trade surplus, which by definition can’t be extended to the whole of Europe (no one could absorb such a volume of exports).
That growth is also explained by the efficiency of Germany’s industrial model, based on a very high degree of worker involvement and their representatives (often with half of the seats on Boards of directors) – an example we would do well to learn from.
The openness to the world that Germany has shown to date sends a strong message to the EU members of the Former Eastern Europe, who want neither more children nor more migrants and whose combined populations, according to the UN, are expected to fall from 95 million today to little more than 55 million between now and century’s end. With the new hard right Italian government in place blocking the alternative to the refugees’ Balkan route, Germany is now leading negotiations for Albania to help.
Germany – and Chancellor Merkel – remains the last in Europe to stand for openness to immigration, and that policy safety net is now but a final few threads hanging together.
Immigration itself is the global political problem of the decade. It has destroyed nearly every strong-left European government (except until last month Spain’s), installed Trump in the US, squeezed Labor out of Australia, and due almost entirely to immigration the hard right is outflanking the centrist right nearly everywhere in the developed world.
It looks now to get even worse.
The Trump administration and his allies are now actively working to topple Germany’s Angela Merkel in favour of the hard right.