The footage from Germany this summer, of refugees receiving a warm welcome at train stations, was incredibly uplifting. This was especially true in the midst of contrasting images coming out of other European countries, and our own government’s uninspired, intransigent response.
However, many Germans now seem apprehensive of Chancellor Merkel’s optimistic “Wir schaffen das!” (We can do it!) approach to the refugee crisis. An Emnid poll from the 31st of October shows that support for the right wing anti-immigrant ‘Alternative for Germany’ party has been pushed to 8 per cent nationally, above the 5 per cent they would need to enter the Bundestag. The same polls show that approval for the CDU-SDP coalition has fallen to 36 per cent—a significant drop from the combined 41.5 per cent of the vote they received in the 2013 election. In another poll, 51 per cent of Germans responded yes to the question: “Are you worried that so many refugees are coming to Germany?” Added to this, the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, is one of the apprehensive elements. This is significant, as the South Eastern area of Germany is the natural entry point for refugees travelling via Austria and the Balkans.
Of course, different polls suggest different things, and this certainly isn’t a mass movement. But, there has been a noticeable populist backlash against Angela Merkel—now in her tenth year as Chancellor. With this in mind, are these Germans right to be worried about their government’s policy?
There are some genuine reasons to be concerned. 800,000 new migrants (refugee, economic, or otherwise) is arguably too much for any country to absorb in the space of a year. That is how many Chancellor Merkel expects to be able to take in, perhaps even more. Already the strain is being felt. One teaching association estimates 25,000 new teachers will be needed. The head of the federal police claims that: “The security situation is getting worse with the growing numbers of refugees.” Ten cases have been opened into refugees suspected of terrorist activities and war crimes in their home countries. Even factoring in what the federal government has promised them, the German regions may still need up to €5.5 billion to cover the cost of healthcare, education, processing, and other services.
There may however, be some benefits to this plan. 45 per cent of German firms are having difficulty filling vacancies, and a recent study conducted by BDO and the Hamburg Institute of Economics shows that Germany now has the lowest birth rate in the world at 8.2 new births per 1,000 people. A population influx may mitigate some of these problems.
On a moral and legal level, it supports an idea which should be inviolable—that developed and stable countries should welcome refugees with open arms. They’re fundamentally different to economic migrants, as they’re driven out of their countries by pure necessity.
There has been somewhat of a cultural backlash against multiculturalism, represented in Germany by groups like Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident). Worries that Muslim migrants will cause a fundamental change in their culture are the product of a minority of small-minded nationalists who overstate the influx of Muslims, their level of cultural difference, and their relative influence. Those who bleat about the inevitable triumph of Sharia law are of a particularly paranoid bent.
Now, that is not to say that a few individuals among the many couldn’t pose a possible security risk, but a thorough processing scheme should mitigate this, as long as security concerns are put before economic ones. On the whole, Merkel is leading her country in the right direction on this issue.
However, this is not a German problem. This is a humanitarian crisis of continental proportions. To her credit, Merkel has been pushing for a continental solution. However, the proposed centrally planned quota system may prove arbitrary, be unfair to smaller countries, and violate the principles of freedom of movement. The focus should be on getting economically larger EU countries, such as France and the UK, to take the initiative when it comes to housing refugees.
Likewise, diplomatic and financial overtures to Turkey, in an attempt to get them to accept more migrants, seems risky. The country is gradually becoming more aggressive and authoritarian under President Erdoğan. The prospect of such a regime gaining closer ties to the EU will undermine the Union’s moral credibility, especially as European powers attempt to stand up to Putin.
Placing too much expectation on Germany to solve this problem will ultimately prove risky in the long term. The Germans may be in need of large groups of migrants now, but the fate of desperate people should not be contingent upon the fluctuating economic conditions of a single state. European leaders need to provide an equitable pan-European solution.
If Britain’s recovery has been as good as he claims, maybe David Cameron should adopt a little of the “we will cope” attitude himself.
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