Now that the initial shock of the European refugee crisis has passed, some German leaders are thinking about what comes next. Open Europe reports:
In an op-ed for Süddeutsche Zeitung, Airbus CEO Tom Enders suggests that Germany should open its labour market to refugees to “better integrate” them. He is calling for exceptions to the minimum wage and more flexibility with regards to limited working contracts.
Good—integration will be needed in order for this experiment in large-scale immigration not to lead to serious social problems, and getting a job is key to integrating into any economy. This will be trickier than it looks though. As TAI Editor Adam Garfinkle has pointed out, Europeans talking excitedly about the high percentage of college degree holders among the refugees are almost certainly unaware of the (dismal) state of education in the Arab world: “Only a tiny percentage of these asylum seekers are well enough educated to hold down a middle-class enabling professional job in an economy like Germany’s.” German leaders may be in for something of a shock.
Furthermore, labor liberalization is likely to raise an even bigger question: if labor liberalization is good for Syrian refugees, why isn’t it good for jobless Europeans? German unemployment and labor participation rates are relatively healthy, if slightly behind the U.S., but as you move south to Italy or west to France, the bottom drops out: youth unemployment is at 40 and 25 percent respectively. Labor participation and overall unemployment are also troublesome. Since, as it’s widely acknowledged, Europe is increasingly being run on a German economic order, why shouldn’t the unemployed of Milan or Marseilles benefit from the same relief offered to the newcomers. (Dangerous thought: for that matter, if this relief is beneficial… why shouldn’t the whole system be reformed?)
As Walter Russell Mead has written, the European immigration situation in many ways reflects the crises of two civilizations. And while the Arab crisis producing these refugees is more visible now, the problems in Europe are likely to become more apparent over time, as the strain of accommodating newcomers into a system that’s only barely keeping up now begins to tell. Europeans are going to have to think even more broadly than Enders—though he’s made a good start—to get through this one.