Germany Under Migration: Victims of Wars and Free Trade Challenge the Continent (II)
Hannes HOFBAUER | 31.10.2015 | WORLD

Germany Under Migration: Victims of Wars and Free Trade Challenge the Continent (II)

See Part I

Competition on the Labour-Market

The starting shot was given by the German chancellor Angela Merkel. When she expressed her solidarity with asylum seeking people at a press conference in late August 2015, her statement could not be interpreted differently than an invitation to Germany. And even more so, when she spoke about «German flexibility» at the same press conference meaning an overthrow of Dublin agreementswhich oblige each EU-member state to register asylum seekers wherever they touch EU-soil for the first time and to take them back in case they ask for asylum in another state. 

Merkel's - temporary - suspension of a key European procedure of the EU border regime left all the transit countries perplexed. No German ambassador warned Budapest, Ljubljana or Vienna of the foreseeable consequences of Merkel's invitation. Consequences in the form of thousands of refugees came within days. Hungary tried to fulfil «Dublin» by controlling its borders and finalising the construction of a border-fence towards the non-EU non-Schengen-countries Serbia and Croatia. It was criticised heavily and blamed for violating European standards of human rights. Austria built transport chain to wave through hundreds of thousand of asylum seekers to Germany. Most of them were able to enter the country of their choice: Germany.

Why Germany? No surprise: it's the economy! Already the first welcome package shows the difference: every asylum seeker received 352 Euro per month from the German budget throughout September and October. A brand new law from the October 15, 2015 now questions this help in cash and will provide non-cash benefits instead. Compared to Slovenia, where an asylum seeker gets 18 Euro per month or Hungary and Greece, where no money is budgeted for them at all, it is well understood why Germany is the aim of almost everybody. Uneven conditions do not end up with welcome help. If you look at monthly wages, an average wage in Germany amounts to 3106 Euro, whereas the same figure for Hungary is 1226 Euro and 644 Euro for Bulgaria. The whole discussion of distributing migrants fairly among all EU-member states is senseless if you do not take into account this simple socio-economic data.

A small story about transferring migrants from Austria, where the standard of living is comparable with Germany, to Slovakia, where it is quite similar to Hungary, illustrates the situation. Vienna and Bratislava agreed on outsourcing some 500 Arab asylum seekers from Austria to Slovakia. A suitable location in the small town of Gabčíkovo was easily found. The population war outraged – a referendum showed 97% of votes against the plan: «No, we do not want Syrian refugees from Austria.» The Slovak government ignored the result of the referendum and prepared the location in Gabčíkovo. Then reality took place. No asylum seeker on their way to Germany was willing to be transferred to Slovakia. Vienna did not want to use force, and so the location in Gabčíkovo stayed empty.

What made Merkel to invite migrants? Her humanitarian argument may be true in parts, but the driving force behind is an economic one. Young male refugees – and they are the vast majority – are flexible, willing, strong and – in many Syrian cases – well trained. In other words: they are ideal for the German labour market. Merkel is well aware of this fact: a constant flow of migrants is keeping salaries down. And this constant flow has started in the 1960s, when the first Turkish, Italian, and Yugoslav workers were «imported» into Germany (and Austria). Competition on the labour market reached a new scale after the breakdown of the communist states, when Polish, Slovak, Bulgarian and Romanian workforce flooded into Western Europe, working in the building industry, agriculture, health and care service. 

During the middle of the 1990s, Bosnians were moved by war, they fled to Austria and Germany and thereby put pressure on the labour market. Just some weeks after the new migration wave started, the Federation of German Industry asked for abolishment of the minimal wage, which was introduced just recently. To increase the pressure on the labour market, entrepreneurs plead for liberalizing the laws that prevent asylum seekers from getting working permits immediately.

There is another reason for Merkel's welcome-culture: demographics, or to make it more concrete: the lacking reproduction of the German society. Since the year 2000 the German population is constantly shrinking. Demographers predict a decline from 8.1 million (in 2015) to 7.4 million (in 2050). With the help of guest workers from Turkey and migrants from Arab countries the fertility rate could rise and stop the demographic decline. Demographers argue that immigration serves as a relief for the system of social security, which relies on the contributions of the active working population. This calculation may turn out to be totally false, if it is true what health personnel on different occasions have noticed. After years of disastrous living conditions, refugees arrive with dangerous illnesses such as hepatitis C and tuberculosis. Nobody knows how many are infected; and if figures were available, nobody would risk to publish them. But serious mass diseases would be very costly for the social security.

At home, where the migrants come from, societies die out. In many Romanian regions children are brought up by their grand-parents, because fathers and mothers work in Spain, Italy or Germany. In Slovakia the whole health and care system is breaking apart, because nurses look after old Germans and Austrians; Polish doctors practice more in England than at home; and Bulgaria lost 12% of its population through migration.

Only two weeks after Merkel proclaimed the welcome-culture, the German borders were closed again and every single refugee has to register officially since then. On September 15, the time slot for non-identified migrants was closed, and the preliminary work for deporting those who are not accepted by Berlin or useful for the labour market back to Austria, Hungary, and Serbia started. Another month later, on the October 14, the German Bundestag implemented severe laws for migrants: non-cash benefits instead of monthly cash, benefit cuts in cases of bad behaviour, defining Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro as countries of save-haven, facilitating deportation. When the chairman of the German union of policemen, Rainer Wendt, called for construction of a fence on the southern border of Bavaria to prevent Austria from waving migrants into Germany, as he argued, the whole discussion in Germany turned «Hungarian». Austria and Slovenia already deployed military at their borders. For Germany, now the time has come for selection, training, and integration of accepted migrants, and deportation of others. Humanitarian aspects can take a back seat.

Washington’s role

It is clear for every serious political analysis: without America’s strategy of regime change in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria the migration waves would not have augmented to the dimension Europe is confronted with today. More discussion is needed to find an answer to the question, if migrants are mobilized towards Europe on intention from Washington to weaken its European “friends”. Economically, this sounds reasonable. Sheltering refugees is costly for the countries of destination, although (or because?) lots of economic braches are profiting of cheap labour, not to speak of the whole care industry. Germany has to pay for all sorts of integration measures. The German ministry of finance calculates that 1.1 billion of Euro is needed solely for the so-called “integration courses” in 2015. In July 2015 the German government estimated that 450,009 refugees would cost it 5.6 billion of Euro. 

Now already 800,000 came to Germany and 1 million is expected by the end of the year. It is likely that Berlin will have to spend more than 10 billion Euro for the refugee crisis in 2015. Obviously, this stresses the German budget. Meanwhile, Barack Obama and the US Congress discuss if 10,000 or 20,000 Syrians should be accepted as refugees in the USA. This reveals the unevenness of the partnership between Washington and Berlin (not only) in the Syrian case. The Americans decide upon war and peace in foreign countries, the Germans bear the costs. Whether or not Washington plays the migration card intentionally, is of no relevance in this context.

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