13  Under Multiple Pressures Germany Rethinks Immigration Policy


One of the many things that the Globalization and Deregulation imposed by US financial creed has ignored is that immigrant and emigrant tradition may be part of a cultural heritage. There are and have been emigrant cultures that have avoided mingling with the alien tribes whom they conquered.

One of the great European immigrant peoples were the Germanic tribes who came out of the east. The record of their migrations, and the extent of their cultural mixing with the peoples already there, has in recent decades been reconstructed by philologists from place names and from the Germanic diversions or from Latin usages in the modern Romance tongues.

The Franks – a German tribe were good mixers, hence the abundance of German roots and structures in modern French. The Visigoths ("West Goths" in their dialect), a more aristocratic, standoffish tribe that occupied much of the Iberian peninsula avoided too much truck with the Romance-speaking plebs. That not only left the Iberian peninsula more exposed to the invasion of the Muslims from Africa, but a smaller German heritage in the vocabulary and structure of Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan.

The name "Lombardy" in Northern Italy is pure German – with a twist: "Lombard" means and meant "long beard." And the Normans who invaded Britain, Gaul, Iberia and Sicily, and Ireland from multiple directions were "North Men" and left their spoor across Europe from the Mediterranean to the many ruined early medieval castles of Ireland.1 And so forth.

From this clear evidence the Germans have always been a migrating people, but not necessarily one that encouraged immigration into their own lands.

"Globalization and Deregulation" paid no attention to such inherited cultural traditions, but tried to deduce them from the ever mounting expansion needs of the deregulated financial system that Washington was promoting with the subtlety of a battering ram. A lot of naive, well-meaning people, internationalist on principle, tagged along for a while, assuming that what was borderless and international on ethical grounds was good and better. An international system, however, must be judged not by one trait, but by the full quiver of its defining characteristics.

That it is why John Maynard Keynes, with his keen sense of what was practical, rebuffed pressures for returning to the gold standard and free trade on "principled grounds" with a conclusive, "We send our cookies to the Danes and they send us theirs. Wouldn’t it make more sense if we just exchanged recipes? I believe that people should move freely across frontiers, but most of what we consume should be homespun."

Germany Rethinks its Role as a Non-immigrant Nation

Now, yet other factors are tugging Germany to rethink its traditional position as an emigrating people rather than one that has traditionally encouraged immigration into its own land.

The Wall Street Journal (27/08, "Berlin Rethinks Immigration" by Marcus Walker) writes: "Berlin – Germany is taking baby steps to relax its tough restrictions on immigration as growing shortages of skilled labour force many European to compete for migrant workers.

"Complaints from businesses that they can’t find enough qualified staff – especially in the engineering sector – are pushing Europe’s largest economy to rethink its reluctance to admit foreign workers. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that her cabinet had agreed to let companies hire more engineers from European Union countries in Eastern Europe.

"But Germany plans to keep a lid on the number of Eastern European migrants in other sectors, maintaining restrictions that have been in place since Poland and seven other ex-communist countries joined the EU in 2004. In contrast, other established EU countries such as the UK and Ireland opened their doors wide to workers from the East. The influx of workers is widely judged to have boosted their economies.

"Germany, like many European countries, is torn between the economic case for more immigration and an attachment to the traditional idea of an ethnically homogeneous nation-state. For years German politicians on the left and right have assured voters that Germany wasn’t a country of mass immigration – even though the country has gone through periods of letting in millions of foreigners. Even when large numbers of Turks settled in postwar West Germany, most Germans assumed these ‘guest workers’ would return home.

"But in recent years, immigration has slowed amid bureaucratic restrictions, while an increasing number of Germans are moving abroad. Net immigration to Germany fell to 80,000 in 2005 compared with 270,000 in 2001.

"In contrast, countries including the UK, Ireland and Spain have absorbed huge numbers of immigrants in recent years. Many economists credit this with housing growth and living standards for the native population. Others contend that competition from immigrants depresses wages of lower skilled workers. In the past few years, much of the debate over immigration has focused on how to better integrate immigrants and their children into society. Riots in France and the UK and problems at German schools have highlighted exclusion among social minorities.

"Terrorism by militant Islamists, including the Hamburg students who took part in the September 11th attacks on the US, have made many Europeans distrustful of their Muslim minorities."

However, overhanging the scene is the one-child families resulting from the wife working outside the home, and the increasing life-span of the general population. That is a social setting that goes ill with a declining population of increasing life span.

"European policy-makers also must address illegal immigration. Boatloads of destitute migrants – often smuggled by criminal gangs to Europe’s Mediterranean shoreline – are common.

"‘By 2015 at the latest, our replacement needs will be bigger than our domestic supply of newly qualified workers,’ says Volker Treier, skills analyst of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. Pressure for more immigration is compounded by an unexpectedly strong boom in German manufacturing, fueled by surging global demand for capital goods. A survey for the German Economics Ministry by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research found that German firms were unable to fill 110,000 jobs for lack of qualified candidates. Instead, the government focused on the need to train citizens better for the labour market, which Ms. Markel said was a higher priority than immigration.

"Among the members of Ms. Merkel’s cabinet, only Education Minister Ms. Annette Schavan has called for further relaxation rules. ‘Improving education and strengthening immigration aren’t alternatives, ‘she said in June. ‘We need both.’"


– from Economic Reform, December 2007