Europe On The Move – And In Transition
Since the crisis of 2009 thousands of Spaniards, Greeks and Italians left their home countries. Many of them have tried their luck in Germany. How have people and politics reacted to these immigrants? Find out in the following four statements.
Most of the new immigrants arriving in Germany come from Europe and by moving to Germany they have realised the idea of the Common Economic Area within the European Union. When the financial and debt crisis of 2009 hit southern Europe with all its might, more and more young jobseekers started to leave their home countries. Once they arrive in Germany, they benefit, on the one hand, from the initiatives that had been introduced to recruit trainees and skilled specialists in Spain and in other crisis-stricken countries. On the other hand, however, they have to learn how to cope with life in a foreign country, to learn a new language and not seldom to take jobs that are below their qualification level. So how did they fare? How do migration researchers, politicians, associations and employers assess these current migratory movements? And – what are the challenges possibly facing the countries they came from? Responses to these questions have been provided here by Ludger Pries of the Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration (Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration), Cristina Faraco Blanco of the La Red Association in Berlin, Bavarian District Aministrator Franz Löffler, as well as employer Michael Kunz.
“Berlin has the migration dynamics of New York” – Ludger Pries of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration
Mr Pries, the financial crisis of 2009 triggered a great wave of migration from southern Europe – Spain, Italy, Greece. In the meantime the wave has ebbed into a more stable flow. Have these newcomers then already arrived in German society?
Migration is often understood as a one-time move either to or out of a country. These days, however, what we are dealing with is actually a kind of “commuter migration” or – especially in the case of southern Europeans – the plan is to first of all work for a few years in Germany, until the situation in the home country improves again. We have already been able to observe this now – as soon as the economy starts to pick up, for example, in Spain, certain people start to go home. So, as you see, the word “arrived” is relative, it has to be seen in the context of the plan that brought them to Germany in the first place. These immigrants or migrant workers take part in the social and cultural life in Germany and, above all, in the country’s working life. Most of them, however, have not oriented themselves solely to the social and cultural life of Germany, but this is understandable in view of their original plan. At the same time Germany ought to be doing much more towards encouraging them to stay permanently in the country.
Why is that important?
In the medium term, i.e. until the year 2050, Germany needs an annual net inward migration of at least 200,000 to 300,000 people who are fit for employment. The SVR – along with other academic and advisory institutes – has submitted relevant demographic calculations. Even under these conditions the labour force potential would still shrink by quite a few million, whereas at the same time the number of older people who are no longer gainfully employed would increase even more. Nevertheless, without any substantial and permanent immigration the primary functions of the social and economic system would be endangered.
Figures show that Berlin is particularly attractive to Spaniards, for example. What has that done for the city? Is it in the meantime already on a par with the so-called melting pot of New York?
I once worked out for the Ruhr area that at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries immigration and the population breakdown into countries of origin was similarly as multifaceted and similarly as fast growing as that of New York a hundred years ago. For Berlin, too, there are also findings that the variety of countries of origin and the migration dynamics are in no way inferior to those of New York.
What is the professional background of the people coming to Germany from southern Europe?
At the moment this cannot be ascertained from the data available on specific internal migration flows from southern Europe within the EU. What we have, however, been able to establish so far is the fact that it is above all skilled workers that have come from the Mediterranean countries, i.e. academics and, to a lesser extent, younger people who have been placed in vocational training. As they come to Germany to look for work, it has to be assumed that as a rule they first of all live from the savings they brought with them and then from what they earn in Germany. Of course it takes a few months for them to learn to at least get by in the language, to make social contacts and to find jobs that are in line with their qualifications. This is where the social networks come in and have a substantial impact.
What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge?
In the short term the greatest challenge for the newcomers is most definitely getting to know the language, the way of life, the requirements of the job and in general the labour market well enough to participate as fully as possible in German society. In the medium term we have to think about how we can develop a fairer approach towards migration, not only with Germany in mind, but also for the whole of Europe. For example, every year over the last few years about 600 doctors have left Bulgaria to work elsewhere. Bulgaria, however, is a poor country and only trains and produces around 600 doctors per year. This migratory exodus of doctors – a veritable brain drain – has created serious problems for the country. We should not always go on about the advantages that immigrants bring for the German labour market, we should also think more about how sustainable development can be promoted in the countries they come from. It would be fatal if the majority of these well trained, young academics left for Germany and the development potential in their country was severely restricted. We have to think more in terms of circular migration, which means that migrant workers would possibly return to their home countries to set up something new there.
"We work almost like psychologists” – Cristina Faraco Blanco, political scientist, project manager and founder of the La Red association in Berlin
“La Red is Spanish and can be translated as ‘network’. I set up the association in 2013. After the financial crisis of 2009 more and more young Spaniards started to leave their country and many of them tried their luck in Berlin. In 2013 I then carried out a research survey to take a closer look at this migratory movement: Why did they come to Germany? What are their prospects and what obstacles do they have to face? It soon became clear that what this community needed was a network. There is in fact a fairly large Facebook group called Españoles en Berlin (Spaniards in Berlin), but the information it provides is insufficient and sometimes simply wrong, too. So we are the network the community really needs.
The survey showed, for example, that it was above all highly qualified Spaniards who were coming to Berlin, but who, at the same time, knew nothing at all about the situation on the city’s labour market. Furthermore, many of them labour under the misapprehension that they can get a job with only English as their language of communication. That, however, is particularly difficult when it comes to jobs for highly qualified people. I think that the language is one of the major obstacles. We offer German courses, as well as seminars on subjects like finding a job, health insurance and labour law. Our migration advisors, who all come from Spain, play a very important role. Basically they work like psychologists for after the initial euphoria of the first three months many migrant workers fall into a black hole mentally and many of them cannot find their way out of it alone. From a psychological point of view it is very important to be able to talk to someone in one’s own mother tongue. The advisors themselves have been through the same experiences, so they can offer support and encouragement and show them a way forward.
The people in Berlin are in general fairly open to Spaniards and Berlin definitely benefits from even more diversity in the city. Nevertheless there are still a few institutions where intercultural communication skills are still somewhat lacking. Again and again we hear stories about job centres where jobseekers are told to “go back to your own country” or they are offered work in call centres for which they are vastly overqualified, having two academic degrees.
I myself came to Berlin from Madrid 14 years ago and my three children were born here. No matter what, I am most definitely an advocate of mobility. Any experience gained by living in a different country is a good thing. We would lose sight of the European idea, if we thought that migration was something to be only rarely experienced.”
“It’s clubs that promote integration”– Franz Löffler, District Administrator of the town of Cham in Bavaria
Mr Löffler, anybody checking out the homepage of your district is not only addressed in German and Czech, but also in Spanish. How did that come about?
The district of Cham is a prospering business region at the heart of Europe. Being located on the border to the Czech republic we were for many years out in the sticks on the edge of Western Europe. In the meantime, however, this border region has gained a new lease of life and now we are slap in the middle of the EU. This new situation and the economic clout of our companies has boosted the region no end and has led to a greater demand for labour. Every year in our district around 1,100 new people are taken on for vocational training, although for the fourth year in a row 200 to 300 positions have remained vacant. That is why I started to think about how we could close this gap. My gaze then fell upon the southern regions of Europe, where, as we know, the unemployment rate amongst young people is in some areas over 50 per cent.
Are there people in your district who are afraid that at some point there won’t be any apprenticeships left for the young people born in the area?
In the beginning there were of course one or two voices saying, ‘Well yes, Mr District Administrator, if you carry on getting trainees from abroad, from Spain, it is going to get more and more difficult for our local kids to compete with them.’ We were, however, able to prove that we really did have a very great demand for skilled workers and trainees. In the end it is not about competition between foreign and local specialists, but more about generally safeguarding and consolidating our location in the district of Cham. If we do not succeed in closing this skilled workers’ gap, the companies will start looking for new locations. Then the local employees would also lose their jobs. The people in the area are now fully aware of this. When it came to providing jobs, we did, however, pay special attention to making sure that the focus was first and foremost on the people from our area, in order to then recruit foreign workers as reinforcement.
What do the vocational trainees from southern Europe have that can be put to good use in your area?
They are of course very keen on the actual training, on playing a part in the working process and the labour market. They are thus a real plus for the potential of our own local trainees and skilled workers. Furthermore in the district of Cham there are also a lot of global players that are also active in Spain or in Spanish-speaking countries. Any specialist trained in the area who has an excellent command of Spanish and German is of course of great benefit to these companies.
What, in your opinion, is important to help these migrant workers get a good start in Germany?
For us it is important that the people who come to us are not viewed merely as workers or trainees, but are seen as human beings. We take great effort to integrate the migrant workers in families, in clubs, in sporting and musical events. This seems to have worked quite well for the drop-out rate is low in our area. Around 80 per cent of those people who started their traineeships two years ago in 2013 are still with us now doing their third year. Over the last two years a total of around 40 Spaniards started their training in our area.
“I just wanted to give the lads a chance”– Michael Kunz, proprietor of a company in the Bavarian town of Cham
“In our family-run business we have two trainees from Spain: Oriol from Barcelona is 23 years old and coming to the end of the second year of his training. Samuel from the Seville area is 35 and has been with us for a good year. Both of them are training to be electronics technicians for building management systems. The business, which I run, has been in my family for three generations and has a staff of 13. It was me who had the idea to give the Spaniards a job. We are participating in a project called career (BY) organised by the Bavarian employer associations of the metalworking and electrical industries (bayme vbm), the Bavarian Business Association (vbw) and the district of Cham. They provide us and the trainees with support when it comes to all the organising. In our company we do not have any specific problems with a shortage of specialist skilled workers, but I found the challenge exciting. On top of that, I wanted to give the lads a chance here in Germany, because there are no prospects for them at the moment in Spain.
Oriol came to us after doing a placement at another company, he could already speak a little German which he managed to improve no end. For Samuel things are a little more difficult at the moment, but I am sure he is going to make it, too. Regarding their living situation the two of them got off to two very different starts. Whereas Oriol’s girlfriend was already living here in Germany, Samuel had to first leave his wife and small baby behind in Spain. In the meantime, however, he has rented a small flat and brought the two of them over to live with him in Germany. I think the fact that Oriol is so active really helped him a lot. In the evenings he sometimes goes for a beer with his colleagues and on Sundays joins the lads for a game of football. When he said he would like to go mountain climbing, we put him in touch with the climbing club or occasionally lent him a car so he could go skiing. In a town like Cham with its population of 16,000 it is the clubs that really give a boost to integration.
My colleagues in the company were somewhat apprehensive in the beginning, above all because of the language. There were questions like: Will he understand everything I explain to him? Will I have to say everything three times which will cost me a lot of precious time? There were one or two occasions when a fitter did not want to take the Spanish trainees on a job with him, but I make a special effort to find out what the particular strengths of the lads are and only send them on suitable jobs. This gives their self-confidence a boost and shows the others that they have to be able to work together with each other. We are a small company, we can sit down and talk to each other about such things and that is what we in fact do.
One thing I have clearly noticed in the two lads that is of advantage to them is the fact that they are older. They have a completely different mind-set to a 16- or 17-year-old trainee. An added advantage for me is that they are allowed to work longer hours, because they are not subject to Germany’s youth protection laws. For the year 2015, just for a change, I have a German trainee, but I would quite definitely be prepared to once again take on a colleague from Spain.“
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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