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July 2014, Volume 21, Number 3

France, Germany, Benelux

France. France in May and June 2014 closed migrant camps near the port of Calais, where migrants wait to slip unto trucks bound for the UK. Migrants were taken from makeshift camps to government centers and told to apply for asylum in France or return to their country of origin. However, many returned to Calais, aiming to board trucks and trains for the UK. In 2002, then interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy ordered a Red Cross center at Sangatte closed.

A Romanian teen named Darius was beaten by a gang of 20 in June 2014 after being accused of stealing from residents of the Cite des Poetes housing project north of Paris. The teen lived in a camp of about 200 Roma near the housing project and was accused of burglaries and thefts; his family offered to return the jewelry he had stolen when the gang demanded a ransom. After Darius was beaten, the Roma abandoned the camp. Most residents of housing projects are descendents of North African guest workers of the 1960s and 1970s.

The European Court of Human Rights in July 2014 upheld the French government's 2010 ban on full-face veils in public, rejecting arguments that the ban undermines freedoms of religion and expression. A Muslim woman charged that banning the niqab, a veil that leaves only eyes visible, and the burqa, a loose garment that covers her entire body with only a mesh over the eyes, violated her religious freedom and put her at risk of discrimination and harassment. The government countered that the veils were a security risk, since they allow a person to conceal his or her identity. Violators can be fined E150.

Socialist President Francois Hollande is struggling with the economy. Rail workers went on strike in June 2014 to protest a planned restructuring that would merge train operator SCNF with rail network administrator RFF and could, some fear, reduce full pension benefits for some workers at age 50 or 55.

Germany. The OECD reported that Germany attracted almost 400,000 immigrants in 2012, second only to the over one million admitted to the US. Other European countries received fewer permanent-type immigrants in 2012, including the UK 282,600; Spain 275,000; Italy, 253,600; and France, 241,900. The highest rates of immigration were in smaller EU countries such as Switzerland, which received 126,000 migrants in 2012; Sweden 82,000; and Austria 67,000.

Canada received 258,000 immigrants in 2012 and Australia 245,000.

The 2011 German Census found that 19 percent of residents had a migrant background, defined as foreigners who immigrated to Germany after 1995 or children with at least one parent who came to Germany after 1995. Almost all of those with a migrant background were in the former West Germany, led by Hamburg, where 28 percent of residents had a migrant background, Baden-Wuerttemberg, 26 percent, and Berlin, 24 percent.

German residents with a migrant background were younger than all German residents, an average of 35 compared to 45.

Since 2007, Germany has required non-EU spouses to understand basic German in order to move to Germany. The European Court of Justice in July 2014 ruled that this German language requirement was unlawful because it violated an EU-Turkish agreement signed in the 1970s that prohibited new restrictions on the freedom of Turks to settle in the EU. Some three million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, including half who are German citizens.

Germany has the strongest large economy in Europe. Germany's unemployment rate of 5.2 percent in spring 2014 was half of the 27-country EU average of 10.4 percent and less than the 11.7 percent rate in the 18-country Euro zone.

Germany's Mittelstand generates over half of GDP, and two-thirds of the small and medium-size enterprises are in manufacturing. Mittelstand manufacturers, who have a reputation for producing high quality and high value items that command high prices abroad, say they cannot find enough skilled workers in Germany, prompting the government to make it easier for non-EU foreigners to study and work in Germany after graduation.

The coalition government in May-June 2014 approved two bills demanded by the Social Democratic party, the junior partner to the Christian Democratic party. One would provide Germany with its first national minimum wage effective in 2016 of E8.50 ($11.60) an hour. The other lowers the retirement age to 63 for workers who made pension payments for 45 years at a cost to the government of ?160 billion ($218 billion) through 2030.

Netherlands. There are 16.7 million people in the Netherlands, including 1.6 million, over nine percent, who are foreigners.

Geert Wilders, Leader of the Party for Freedom, has long complained about Islamic immigrants, saying "the fewer, the better." There are 360,000 Moroccans in the Netherlands, second only to the 400,000 Turks, but fewer than 10 percent of the Moroccans arrived as migrant workers. Half were born in the Netherlands, and most of the others arrived via family unification.

Moroccans stand out in crime data. Two-thirds of Moroccan males between 12 and 23 were detained at least once by police, and a third were detained five or more times. A seventh of working age Dutch Moroccans receive welfare benefits.

Switzerland. Swiss voters in February 2014 approved restrictions on the free movement of EU nationals. A quarter of the eight million Swiss residents are foreigners, and the Swiss People's Party (SVP) said that restrictions on migration were needed to preserve Swiss identity.

In June 2014, the Swiss government announced that, beginning in February 2017, there will be limits on the number of work permits available to foreigners that are valid for more than four months.

Swiss voters on May 18, 2014 rejected by a 76-24 percent vote a Minimum Wage Initiative that would have required employers to pay all workers at least 22 CHF ($25) an hour. The world's highest minimum wage in 2014 is Australia's $16.88 an hour; the US federal minimum wage is $7.25. Swiss voters also rejected a proposal to cap the salaries of Swiss firms at 12 times more than the firm's lowest-wage workers.