People gather to enter buses at a temporary holding center for refugee. Photo / AP

The rest of may see a crisis as a record number of asylum
seekers flood the continent from Syria and other pockets of conflict and
poverty. But Germany – the region’s economic powerhouse – is also
sensing a golden opportunity.
This fast-greying nation of 81
million is facing a demographic time bomb. With a morbidly low birthrate
and a flat-lining population, hundreds of schools have already closed.
Some neighbourhoods, particularly in the increasingly vacant east, have
become ghost towns. For Germans, it has raised a serious question: Who
will build the Mercedes and Volkswagens of tomorrow?
Enter a record wave of migrants.

Offering some of the most generous terms of asylum, Germany
has become by far the biggest host in Europe for those fleeing
dangerous and deteriorating conditions, with more than 800,000
applications expected this year alone.

With no sign of the crisis abating as war rages in Syria and
Iraq, German leaders are saying they “can cope” with 500,000 more
newcomers a year for “several years”. Chancellor Angela Merkel is
preparing her public for a period of transformation that may alter the
very definition of what it means to be a German. Some leaders in the
region are sounding the alarm over the threat to national identities
posed by the mostly Muslim newcomers. But Merkel is cajoling Germans to
embrace a new vision of their country that, in the future, may not be as
white or Christian as it is today.
In a now-viral video, Merkel
last week addressed a woman who expressed fear that refugees would bring
more Islamist terror. Merkel took a deep breath before replying: “Fear
is a bad adviser.”

Addressing Parliament yesterday, she said of the newcomers:
“They need help to learn German, and they should find a job quickly.
Many of them will become new citizens of our country. If we do it well,
this will bring more opportunities than risks.”
Merkel isn’t the
only one being pragmatic, with industrial leaders here heralding the
flood of working-age migrants. Some German universities are opening
their doors to allow refugees into classes for free. The Government is
offering “welcome classes” teaching German to migrant children and
adults. Germany is rolling out the welcome mat as its unemployment rate
has fallen to 6.2 per cent – one of the lowest in Europe. Trade and
service companies – from caterers to plumbing firms – are struggling to
find new workers, with more than 37,000 trainee positions unfilled,
according to the Federal Employment Agency. Couple that with the fact
many of the asylum seekers – especially Syrians – are highly educated or
skilled workers and include doctors, engineers and architects and
suddenly, for Germany, what initially seems like a crisis becomes
something else.

“As the asylum seekers are fairly well qualified, there is a
good chance they will become valuable parts of our workforce in the
coming years,” said Reiner Klingholz, director of the Berlin Institute
for Population and Development. In a country projected to shrink by 13.2
million people by 2060, the newcomers could help Germany confront its
long-term battle with population decline.
At least that’s the
view of Oliver Junk, the mayor of Goslar, a town of 50,000 in
north-central Germany. Suffering from a net population loss of 4000
since 2002, in recent years, he said, Goslar has had to shut three
schools and is now dotted with the “occasional empty house”.

But over the past two years, Goslar has also taken in
almost 300 asylum seekers. Initially, the newcomers have no choice but
to stay. But those who win asylum eventually win the right to move – and
Junk said his city is weighing a number of new programmes to persuade
them to stay.
– Washington Post-Bloomberg
EU green-card plan
• European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker said a US-style green card system in Europe would kill off illegal smuggling.

At present non-EU migrants wishing to work in Europe must apply for a
work permit with the government of the nation they wish to work in.
Juncker’s plan would see that system centralised.
• He sees the move as a way of bringing younger workers to the continent to solve the problem of an ageing population.

EU countries would be forced to accept 160,000 refugees from Italy,
Hungary and Greece. Countries would be fined 0.002 per cent of GDP if
they refuse. The relocation scheme comes with a carrot of € 6000
($10,660) for each migrant taken.
• Germany and France are in favour, but Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are bitterly opposed.