Skip to navigation

Skip to main content


January 2008, Volume 15, Number 1

France, Switzerland, Germany

France. In November 2007, riots broke out in the northern suburbs of
Paris, as second- and third-generation youth from immigrant families
burned cars and stoned police. Two boys were killed in
Villiers-le-Bel when their motorbike collided with a police car,
setting off protests similar to those that occurred in November 2005
in another Paris suburb after two teens died running from police.

Villiers-le-Bel is near the Charles de Gaulle airport, but most of
its jobless youth reportedly cannot get jobs there. The unemployment
rate among minority youth is reported to be 40 percent, and housing
is often crowded, encouraging teens to wander the streets. President
Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the protests, calling those who destroyed
offices and businesses a "thugocracy" who would not be rewarded by
more social spending.

Sarkozy proposed to end "special regime" pension benefits for rail,
gas and electric workers that allow some to retire at 50 with
generous benefits; this pension system has a $7 billion deficit.
There were strikes in October-November 2007, but they eventually

Switzerland. The Swiss People's Party's won 29 percent of the vote in
October 2007 elections, gaining seven more seats in Parliament. Its
billboards showing white sheep on a Swiss flag kicking out a black
sheep "for security" aroused controversy during the campaign.

SVP leader Christoph Blocher, who was justice minister in the
outgoing government, was not included in the new government formed
after the election, even though two SVP members have agreed to serve
in the seven-member cabinet. Blocher said that the SVP would go into
opposition and use referenda to urge tougher migration policies.

Germany. Beginning in November 2007, German employers may hire
engineers from the eight Eastern European countries that joined the
EU in May 2004 without a test of the local labor market. German
employers can also hire non-EU skilled workers if they are paid at
least E85,000 a year; employers want this minimum salary level
reduced. In a third change, foreign students graduating from German
universities are allowed to remain and work for up to three years.

Germany has no national minimum wage, but a 1996 law allows the
government to impose the negotiated wage covering most of the workers
in a sector to all workers in that sector in order to prevent EU
firms from bringing lower-wage EU workers to Germany under the EU's
freedom to provide services guarantee. Construction and cleaning
services are covered by the 1996 law.

In December 2007, the government approved a minimum wage for postal
workers under the same law. Some private postal services were
beginning to chip away at the Deutsche Post's monopoly on first-class
mail, which will lose some of its monopoly advantages in 2008, and
the new minimum wage is aimed at slowing the growth of such low-wage
competition. Postal workers in Germany must be paid at least E8 to
E9.50 an hour, slightly below the E11 average of Deutsche Post

Minimum wages may spread to other sectors in which foreign firms are
bringing lower-wage workers from other EU countries to Germany,
including security guards and meatpacking workers. There is a debate
over whether Germany should set a national minimum wage or have
different minimum wages in each sector of the economy. If there is
to be a national minimum wage, the question is whether it should be
set at the level of UI benefits, about E4.50 an hour, as economists
suggest, or at E7.50 ($11) an hour, as unions prefer. The minimum
wage in France is E8.27 ($12) and in the UK L5.52 ($11) for workers
older than 21.

German unemployment peaked at over five million in 2005, and has
since fallen to about 3.5 million, or below 8.5 percent, the lowest
rate since 1993.

Roland Koch, the Christian Democrat Union governor of the state of
Hesse, rekindled debate over the integration of foreigners in the
campaign before January 27, 2008 state elections. Koch, often
mentioned as a future candidate for chancellor, said that Germany is
"not a country of immigration" and has "too many criminal young
foreigners." Koch's remarks were triggered by a December 20, 2007
attack on an elderly man by Turkish and Greek youth in Munich that
was caught on tape.

Koch in 1999, when first running for governor, began a
signature-gathering campaign to require foreigners naturalizing to
give up their old citizenship. Turks objected strongly to Koch's
campaign rhetoric. There are about 2.7 million ethnic Turks in
Germany, including 500,000 who are naturalized German citizens.
Experts said that the state election results may indicate whether the
SPD's call for a national minimum wage seems more important than the
CDU's call for tougher laws against youth crime.

The German government continues to use carrots and sticks to foster
integration. In July 2007, the government announced 150 measures to
"bring immigrant communities into mainstream German society." They
include more low-cost German-language courses that enroll
participants for longer periods and offer child care to mothers
studying German. Non-EU foreigners who fail German tests and refuse
to enroll can be fined up to E1,000.

The government is tightening rules on foreigners marrying foreigners
they wish to bring to Germany. Foreign spouses must be at least 18
and must know 200 to 300 words of German before receiving visas to
enter Germany. There are reports of forced marriages with Turks
living in Germany.

There are about 7.5 million foreigners among the 82.5 million
residents of Germany. A 2006 poll reported that 59 percent of
Germans "agree" or "strongly agree" that too many foreigners live in
Germany, and 35 percent believe that foreigners should be sent home
when the unemployment rate rises.

Austria. Austria had 419,000 foreign workers in 2007, including
157,000 from ex-Yugoslavia, 65,000 Germans, 56,000 Turks, 18,000
Hungarians and 15,000 Poles. About 12.4 percent of the workers in
Austria in Fall 2007 were foreigners.

Katrin Bennhold, "In France, discrimination on upswing as violence
smolders," International Herald Tribune, December 9, 2007. Molly
Moore, "Sarkozy Says Riots Were 'Thugocracy,' Not a Social Crisis,"
Washington Post, November 30, 2007. "Merkel seeks tougher measures
against forced marriages," Associated Press, October 29, 2007.