She looks as unruffled and collected as ever: Angela Merkel’s relentless success is much in the line of German politics, which eulogises experience and calmness in the face of major challenges.
In September, Germans will head to the polls to vote for a new parliament. While European countries such as the Netherlands or France have seen massive rises in far-right movements, Germany – while being one of the most permissive countries when it comes to immigration – has been largely untouched by any kind of political shift.
In the United States, many of Trump’s hardest-core anti-immigrant supporters cite the case of Germany as a disaster to avoid. Chancellor Merkel, however, seems to be heading straight for another term.
Politik in Deutschland
In the latest INSA and Emnid polls, Merkel’s centre-right Christian-Democrat/Christian-Social Union (CDU/CSU) is leading the field. She is distancing her current coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), by around eight points. The social democrats, who made former EU parliament president Martin Schulz their lead candidate, haven’t been able to defy Merkel’s popularity.
In the recent state elections in Schleswig-Holstein and Nordrhein-Westfalen (both states held by the social democrats up until now), the centre-right increased its share of votes. This performance is an indication of Merkel’s success at the federal level.
While immigration policy impacts the direction of daily politics and considerably reduced the lead of the centre-right already (Merkel’s party is polling lower than her last election result, despite remaining the strongest party), Germans don’t seem to want to see Merkel replaced just yet.
In the Netherlands, the anti-immigration nationalists under Geert Wilders gained five seats in the recent parliamentary elections in March, making it the third most popular party in the country. In France, Marine Le Pen won 10.5 million votes in the second-round vote against Emmanuel Macron – more than any of candidate with such a protectionist and anti-immigrant manifesto had ever received.
Why hasn’t Germany been affected by the rise in far-right parties, given its significant levels of immigration?
Immigration in Germany is a success story. The Germans, while not being enthusiastic about leaving their country themselves, have been amenable towards foreign workers for the past 60 years. Throughout the 1960s, Western German governments under the chancellors Adenauer, Erhard and Kiesinger signed myriad guest worker agreements with countries such as Turkey, Morocco, South Korea, Tunisia, and Yugoslavia.
Until 1973, 4 million immigrants had settled in Germany through these work-oriented agreements. Contrary to initial governmental plans, a significant share of those workers never left the country.
Germany’s Immigration Situation
Today, thanks to its high productivity, Germany’s cities are amongst the highest-ranking in the world when it comes to quality of life for expats, with Munich fourth, Düsseldorf sixth and Frankfurt seventh.
Economic theory tells us that immigration-friendly approaches are beneficial for total employment, since immigrants are both producers and consumers. The economic case in favour of immigration is essentially that it increases demand for goods and services.
Burdened with changing demographics, many European countries struggle with declining population numbers. Between 1998 and 2013, Germany’s population declined by 1.5 million.
As the German Federal Statistical Office points out, Germany’s social security system is, through immigration, also buying itself more time for the future by considerably increasing the share of young people. In other words: young immigrants are not only increasing the country’s purchasing power, they also finance the pensions and hip replacements of old German workers.
Today, the largest immigrant population in Germany comes from Turkey, with more than 1.5 million (in 2015), second is Poland with about 750,000, and Italy with almost 600,000.
The situation with refugees is different: Germany is currently host to more than a million refugees, most of them coming from Syria. In 2016, German officials gave refugee status to over 250,000 people, rejecting over 170,000. The reason for this large influx is Germany’s indulgent policy for granting refugee status.
Together with Austria, the German government has channelled refugees through Eastern and Central Europe since September 2015. In the same year, Germany accepted a total of 890,000 refugees, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
In fact, since the government’s decision to allow thousands of refugees entry, Merkel has shamed Eastern European countries for “forgetting their past” by not accepting refugees., the German chancellor has refrained from her patronising attitude towards other countries.
Change in Rhetoric and Policy
Although opinion polls show a majority of Germans disagree with the current immigration policy, Merkel has publicly called for immigrants “to respect German values” and even called for the ban of the burqa. These statements mark her electoral opportunism, shifting to the right out of fear of an ascending far-right. However, making these statements after Germany has been hit by a wave of terrorist attacks is not the right approach, as 82 percent of Germans claim to “feel safe”.
The recognition that immigration can be controversial can also reach humorous heights. The English-speaking website of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Labour timidly explains:
Although it is not a widely appreciated fact, Germany has been one of the most popular immigration destinations in the world for some time now.”
More unfortunate than the rhetorical shifts are the actual policies: before 2015, asylum seekers merely needed to be in the country for three months before they were granted the right to work. Today, refugees are banned from the labour market.
Merkel’s increased restraint when it comes to voicing support for immigration-friendly policies is undoubtedly due to rising scepticism towards the government’s position on the issue. However, none of the political parties currently polling high enough to gather seats in parliament have suggested a complete stop to either legal immigration or the influx of refugees.
Economically, many arguments fall in favour of pro-immigration policies. German politicians need to consider the potential for increased productivity through an influx of new people into the country, which applies to both regular immigrants and refugees.
Only with an even stronger economy can the country strengthen much-needed social cohesion: Germans and immigrants working hand in hand for progress, like they have been for the past 60 years.
This article was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education.
Pictures are Creative Commons.
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