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July 2012 Volume 19 Number 3
France, Germany, Benelux
France. Socialist challenger Francios Hollande defeated President Nicolas Sarkozy in the second round of elections on May 6, 2012. The vote was interpreted as a rejection of Sarkozy's austerity policies and his efforts to win votes from the far right by promising to tighten border controls, reduce immigration to less than 100,000 a year, and fight crime.<< back
Over 18 percent of French voters supported the National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen in first-round presidential balloting April 22, 2012. Observers said that the National Front had turned anti-immigrant sentiment into "republicanism" with calls to reinforce secular values to counter fundamentalist Islam.
The French government spends 56 percent of GDP, the highest share in the Euro zone, and public debt is 90 percent of GDP. Hollande promised to spend more to lessen the impacts of persisting unemployment and speed growth. The unemployment rate in France is over 10 percent, and the youth unemployment rate is over 20 percent, increasing pressure on the government to stimulate the economy.
Germany. About 63,000 workers from the so-called A8 countries that joined the EU in May 2004 moved to Germany in the first year after they gained freedom of movement rights in May 2011, fewer than expected. Two-thirds of the A8 migrants in Germany are Poles.
Germany had net migration of 280,000 in 2011, up from 128,000 in 2010. The leading countries of origin were Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
Germany is implementing the EU Blue Card program, which offers non-EU foreigners two-year work and residence permits if they have university degrees and a job offer that pays at least 1.5 times the average gross salary (1.2 times in labor-short occupations). Blue Card holders can have their permits renewed and, after five years in the EU, can apply for permanent residence status.
Some young professionals from Greece and Spain, where more than half of those aged 25 to 34 are unemployed, are moving to Germany. Temp agencies such as Adecco are helping engineers to move from one EU country to another, as from Spain to Germany. Greek and Spanish governments worry about the future costs of this migration if their citizens settle abroad. German employers, on the other hand, worry that their investment in Greek and Spanish migrants might be costly if their new employees return to their countries of origin quickly.
German employers are complaining of shortages of skilled workers, prompting the government to replace its so-called Paragraph 19 foreign professional program with the EU Blue Card program, which allows non-EU foreigners with a German job that pays at least E44,800 a year to receive temporary work and residence permits that can be converted into permanent residence after three years. Non-EU graduates of German universities will be allowed one year to find a job in Germany after graduation in any field (a change from the current requirement that the German job be related to their field of study), and obtain permanent residence after two years.
The Federal Commissioner for Integration, Maria Boehmer, in June 2012 reported that migrant youth were being more successfully integrated in Germany, noting that more are graduating from secondary school and going to university. However, only about 15 percent of graduates with a migrant background enroll in universities, compared with 35 percent of German graduates. About 13 percent of migrant students, compared to five percent of German students, do not complete secondary school.
The employment rate for immigrants in Germany reached 66 percent in 2011, the highest in the EU.
Germany has a low birth rate. If current trends continue, the average woman will have 1.4 children in her lifetime and the German population will shrink from 82 million in 2012 to 69 million in 2050. In summer 2012, the German Parliament is ready to approve a bill that provides $500 million in allowances for parents who keep their one- and two-year-old children out of state-run day care.
The German government is trying to raise both fertility and female labor force participation with more all-day schools, more child-care centers, and a $190 a month child-care allowance. About 40 percent of German women with children under five work for wages; long waiting lists for places in child-care centers may deter others. Many economists have criticized the at-home child-care allowance, arguing that it deters job creation and denies especially children of low-income parents the benefits of early childhood education.
Thilo Sarrazin's 2010 book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany abolishes itself) continues to resonate. Opinion polls find that over half of Germans believe that Sarrazin is correct when he writes that Muslim immigrants do not want to integrate, and that up to 20 percent would vote for him if he ran for office.
There are about seven million foreigners in Germany, and the book by Matthias Thieme and Pitt von Bebenburg Deutschland ohne Ausl„nder (Germany without Foreigners) imagines what would happen if they were expelled. The book predicts that industries from personal and elder care to hotels and restaurants would collapse for lack of labor.
Benelux. Political parties in both Belgium (Vlaams Belang) and the Netherlands (Party for Freedom) created web sites in 2012 to allow the public to report migrants who break laws and social norms. These parties are especially critical of Muslim immigrants from Morocco and Turkey who, they allege, fail to integrate. Mainstream political parties and anti-discrimination agencies condemned the web sites.
Recruitment agencies continue to bring young Polish workers to many Western European countries, but there are more stories of disappointment. Many Poles who have not been to the Netherlands believe they will work 40 to 50 hours a week at $12 to $14 an hour; many are disappointed when they arrive and work far fewer hours and have to pay for accommodation. Unemployment remains over 13 percent in Poland.
Freedom of movement within the EU allows EU nationals to move to another EU country and seek jobs (except public sector jobs) on an equal basis with natives. EU nationals are normally allowed six months to find jobs in the country to which they have moved. The Netherlands in 2012 announced plans to reduce the job-search period for EU nationals to three months, drawing protests from the European Commission.