Jochen Bittner and Anna Sauerbrey are the Face of Germany in the USA

Cultural Ambassadors. These are the people, usually journalists, who get picked by Home Country journalists to be the face of Foreign Country in Home's press. Usually, it's because they have learned to speak Home's language, and have connections there. They then become the sole source of information and commentary about Foreign Country for the vast millions of Home's residents who are mildly curious about Foreign Country, but not curious enough to do more than read an occasional newspaper column.

Right now, the preferred Germany-explainers to America are Jochen Bittner of Die Zeit, and Anna Sauerbrey of Die Welt. Here is an excerpt of Sauerbrey's most recent column in the New York Times, about the Muslim female blogger Betül Ulusoy (g) a lawyer who has blogged about facing discrimination because she wears a headscarf: 

That piety and independence, religion and political wit can go together indeed doesn’t fit into many Germans’ heads. Germany has become deeply secular in recent decades. Both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches have been losing members rapidly. Today, over a third of all Germans do not belong to any denomination.

Immigration, however, is bringing religion to Germany. The number of Muslims in Germany is estimated to be between 3.8 million and 4.3 million, about 5 percent of the population. That makes the Muslim community in Germany the second-largest in Europe, after France.

Though such projections show that Islam will remain marginal in Europe for decades to come, the fear of “Islamization” is widespread. It has led to the rise of right-wing populist parties from Finland to France. Their rise is usually regarded as a political phenomenon. It might as well be seen as a result of cultural alienation, though. In Germany, many have come to see faith as a spooky and potentially dangerous pathology. Want to make a character on a Friday night TV detective show look suspicious? Let him pray.

In Germany’s secular society, religion in general, and Islam in particular, is regarded as an atavism, a relic from a premodern era from which the country has luckily matured. Renunciation and deliberate submission, common elements of religion, throw the average German hedonist into a state of panic (unless they are part of a no-carbs diet or yoga routine). Why would anybody in her right mind refrain from eating or wrap a scarf around her head in the summer? 

So German readers, next time you're at a dinner party in the USA, be prepared to be confronted with the name Anna Sauerbrey and asked how she could possibly have been so brilliant/stupid as to write X in the New York Times.


Feckless Freeloaders v. Hot-Money Flows

Kevin Drum has the most intelligent commentary on the Greek debacle I've read in a long time, so I think I'll steal it:

Greece bears plenty of blame in this whole debacle. They borrowed way too much when their economy was booming; they refused to modernize their infamously porous tax collection, especially toward the rich; they lied through their teeth about their finances for years; and governments of both right and left have doggedly supported an insanely bloated public sector that would make even a Russian blush.

On the German (i.e., Northern European) side of things, the story of blame is a little more....technocratic. Banks made bets on interest rate convergences between north and south when the euro was introduced. This paid off, and for years they happily shoveled money into Greece at great profit. Greece's economy overheated, but the ECB kept monetary policy loose because that benefited Germany twice over: first by providing Germans with a good place to invest their money and second by providing Greeks with enough money to import German goods. Eventually, this hot money flow produced inflation, but monetary policy stayed loose anyway because the German economy was kind of sluggish at the time and needed the boost. Inevitably, this produced a capital account surplus in Greece and therefore a current account deficit. When the Great Recession hit, everything went to hell. Due to the hot money flows, Greek banks had become dependent on wholesale funding, and when that suddenly dried up a banking crisis got added to the rest of the mix. It's been downhill ever since.

Now: read those two paragraphs carefully. It's plain there's fault on both sides. But the fault of the Greek side is easy to understand and easy to put in moralistic terms. They lived high, they lied about their finances, and they coddled their government workers. It's easy to paint the Greeks as irresponsible wastrels who are just getting what they deserve.

The German side is quite different. Be honest: did you even understand it? It's all very technocratic, almost hydraulic in nature. Investors made bets on some derivatives; centralized monetary policy was not ideal for Greece; hot money flows inevitably produced current account deficits; and when the Great Recession cratered the economy it all turned into a full-blown banking and debt crisis. This is all very recondite. Sure, maybe it was Germany's fault, but in an abstract, bureaucratic way. It's a lot harder to see bad personal behavior here.

I'm not alone in thinking that once you dig into things, German behavior has been quite a bit worse than Greek behavior. But it's hard to make this case in a way that makes much sense emotionally. What most people see is a highly intricate and technocratic system on one side and a bunch of reckless, happy-go-lucky Greeks on the other side. So who are you going to blame?

In case you're wondering (I was), 'hot money' is an actual financial term of art.


60% of 'Refugees' in Germany Come from Europe

The head of the Federal Ministry for Migration, Manfred Schmidt, describes the situation (g) in Germany:

It is still the case that a large fraction of asylum applications come from Western Balkan states, which means they have no chance of obtaining asylum. "As of the end of May we received 111,000 people from the 10 most important countries of origin. 68,000 came from the Western Balkans", said Schmidt. The number of migrants from Serbia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina has dropped since these countries were declared 'secure countries of origin' by German authorities. Asylum applications from Kosovo also dropped drastically. By contrast, the number of applicants from Albania has increased rapidly: "30,000 Albanians want asylum in Germany. Traffickers are dangling false hopes in front of these people."

The chances of asylum being granted to people from the West Balkans is between .1 and .2 percent. However, they get 140 Euros a month each in 'pocket money' once they reach Germany. Schmidt wants to reduce that to reduce the incentive for economic migration.

 


Come on, You Can Do Better than This

I love my readers, I really do, and I enjoy the comments on this blog, which are often more interesting than the stuff I write.

But recently, in response to posts about immigration, the comments have basically been "Dude, that just can't be true" (translation: "I don't want to believe it because it doesn't harmonize with my pre-existing convictions"). But saying it just won't make it so. I'm posting these articles and studies because I think they shed light on important issues, and because they're not the sort of thing that gets a lot of play in the mainstream press.

If you disagree with their conclusions, don't just complain, prove you're right. I'd be happy to see well-researched studies and good reporting that challenges the conclusions of the things I've posted. Bring it on!


Europe's Anti-Immigrant Backlash Continues

The right-wing Danish People's Party experienced almost a doubling of its support, the New York Times reports

In an election that turned on economic uncertainty and fierce debates over immigration, Danish voters on Thursday ousted their center-left government in a clear swing to the right that unexpectedly elevated an anti-immigrant, anti-European Union party that had been on the margins of the country’s politics.

Polls had predicted a close race, but as the night wore on, the far-right Danish People’s Party emerged in second place over all, raising questions about the role it could play in a new government and the country’s path in the coming four years.

The outcome took even senior members of the Danish People’s Party by surprise. “It’s gone beyond my wildest expectations,” Peter Skaarup, a senior lawmaker with the party told The Local, a Danish news outlet. “I know we often fare better in these elections than the polls suggest since people often aren’t willing to admit that they vote for the Danish People’s Party, but it really does look fantastic so far.”

...

Denmark has consistently ranked among the world’s happiest nations, but the flow of immigrants ignited a backlash that has heightened nationalist sentiments, something that also unfolded with political upheaval in neighboring Finland — where the populist Finns Party joined the government — and to some extent in other European countries.

“Immigration has been a very key and decisive issue in this campaign,” Mr. Hansen said. Debate focused largely on the number of workers coming from places like Bulgaria and Romania, what sort of benefits they should receive, and whether Denmark should take in more of the migrants arriving at Europe’s southern borders, he added.

And this is in the happiest country on earth. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the culture of all Continental European nations is not welcoming to immigrants who don't look like original inhabitants. This has always been the case and always will, there is no way to change it. A policy which brings millions of low-skilled immigrants with different skin colors, languages, beliefs, and customs into any European country will spark a fierce backlash even in supposed citadels of tolerance such as Denmark and Sweden.

If you nevertheless support such a policy, you must also create a plan to deal with the backlash, otherwise you are just posturing.


Italy Can't, and Won't, Handle Millions of 'Refugees' Properly

Nicholas Farrell, a British writer who lives in Italy, looks at that country's refugee crisis without the wishful thinking. He reports a number of interesting facts, including (1) 70% of the refugees are from sub-Saharan Africa and Pakistan; (2) only a small fraction bother to apply for political asylum; and (3) once they arrive, the majority of them disappear into the immigrant underworld of Europe:

The same left-wing Italian government [Renzi] also took the extraordinary step of decriminalising illegal immigration, which means among other things that none of the boat people are arrested once on dry land. Instead, they are taken to ‘Centri di accoglienza’ (welcome centres) for identification and a decision on their destinies. In theory, only those who identify themselves and claim political asylum can remain in Italy until their application is refused — or, if it is accepted, indefinitely. And in theory, under the Dublin Accords, they can only claim political asylum in Italy — the country where they arrived in the EU. In practice, however, only a minority claim political asylum in Italy. Pretty well all of them remain there incognito, or else move on to other EU countries.

Here’s how it works. In the welcome centres, they are given free board and lodging plus mobile phones, €3 a day in pocket money, and lessons — if they can be bothered — in such things as ice-cream-making or driving a car and (I nearly forgot) Italian. Their presence in these welcome centres is voluntary and they are free to come and go, though not to work, and each of them costs those Italians who do pay tax €35 a day (nearly €13,000 a year). Yes, they are supposed to have their photographs and fingerprints taken, but many refuse and the Italian police, it seems, do not insist. As the Italian interior minister, Angelino Alfano, explained to a TV reporter the other day: ‘They don’t want to be identified here — otherwise, under the Dublin Accords, they would have to stay in our country. So when a police officer is in front of an Eritrean who is two metres tall who doesn’t want his fingerprints taken, he can’t break his fingers, but must respect his human rights.’

This year, there is space for just 75,000 migrants in such places. Hotels are filling the breach, including the four-star Kulm hotel perched high above the luxury resort of Portofino on the Ligurian coast. But most of the rescued migrants could not care less about all that jazz and have just disappeared.

The ones who stay long in the welcome centres are those who have revealed their identities in order to apply for political asylum in Italy. Last year, 64,900 migrants did so in Italy — roughly a third of those saved by the Italian navy. But this being Italy, the judicial system only had time to reach a decision on half those applications (accepting 60 per cent of them), and anyway, thanks to the byzantine Italian appeals procedure, those refused asylum can remain for years. Even if their asylum claim is finally rejected and by some cruel quirk of fate they are actually handed a deportation order, it is easily ignored: last year Italy forcibly deported just 6,944 people — a figure set to shrink even more once a law before parliament is passed banning deportation to countries where human rights are abused.

Fair enough, you might say, if all the asylum seekers were genuine refugees from war zones. But contrary to the impression given by most of the world’s media, hardly any of 2014’s intake were from war-torn countries such as Syria or Iraq (though it is true that the number of Syrians is now rising).

Last year, most were from sub-Saharan Africa. Top of the league table were the Nigerians, followed by the Malians and the Gambians, the Senegalese and even the Pakistanis — who together made up 70 per cent of the total. No doubt these countries are no picnic to live in, and parts of some of them are war zones, but that should not, and in theory does not, guarantee refugee status. It is also a fact that most boat people are young single men and the price of a ticket on a people-smuggling boat is €2,000 (nearly two years’ pay for the average worker in Mali).


Those Refugees Aren't Refugees, and Aren't Even Poor

As the Wall Street Journal reports, via Steve Sailer, many of the 'refugees' coming across the Mediterranean to Europe are, as this blog has pointed out repeatedly, anything but: 

Senegal is a stable West African democracy, and Kothiary has profited from the currents of globalization transforming rural Africa’s more prosperous areas. Flat screen TVs and, increasingly, cars—mostly purchased with money wired home by villagers working in Europe—have reshaped what was once a settlement of mud huts. The wealth has plugged this isolated landscape of peanut farms and baobab trees into the global economy and won respect for the men who sent it.

But it has also put European living standards on real-time display, and handed young farm hands the cash to buy a ticket out. …

They leave behind a proud democracy whose steady economic growth has brought American-style fast food chains, cineplexes and shopping malls to this nation of 15 million, but hasn’t kept pace with the skyrocketing aspirations of the youthful population. Dusty and remote villages like Kothiary have become an unlikely ground zero for this exodus. …

The number of Senegalese jumped 123% from the first four months of last year, which also saw record emigration. West Africa houses several of the world’s faster-growing economies but is also sending some of the most migrants out. …

Students there, Mr. Sidibé included, have cashed out their scholarships to pay traffickers for a ride to Tripoli. Even their professors have traded in paychecks to journey north, joining policemen, civil servants and teachers, said Souleymane Jules Diop, the country’s minister for emigrants.

“People don’t go because they have nothing, they go because they want better and more,” said Mr. Diop. “It’s aspiration.”


Tomorrow's Views Today

Me, yesterday:

Hardly a day goes by without some pundit, usually American, chastising Germany for having a barely-functional military and for staying out of most international conflicts. 

American pundit Roger Cohen, today:

But a fundamental problem remains. Postwar Germany is in essence a pacifist power. Mention of force is near anathema to the vast majority of the German people. Arming Ukraine to level the playing field (and so bolster the chances of diplomacy) is of course rejected by Merkel; it should not have been.


The Success of Germany's Cautious, Self-Interested Foreign Policy

Parke Nicholson joins the chorus of Americans urging Germany to increase military spending intervene more abroad foreign policy. Problem is, Germans don’t want this:

A majority of the German public for the first time favors an “independent approach” from the United States. Yet besides spending more on foreign aid, most prefer to “continue to exercise restraint” in dealing with international crises, and there is a deep ambivalence about the use of military force or sanctions. Although it is true that Germany remains constrained by its past, its recent success may have also instilled in it a sense of complacency. 

For example, Germany is often singled out for its meager defense spending. Although Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble recently announced a six percent increase in defense spending over the next five years, much of this will replace aging equipment and infrastructure, and overall spending will remain small relative to the country’s size. More frustrating to American observers, however, is the government’s reluctance to openly discuss security challenges and commit to planning for future contingencies. This is odd given that Germany provided the third-largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan and well over 200,000 soldiers to international peacekeeping missions since 1993….

In the longer term, Germany must recognize that it can no longer simply remain a convening power and rely on the initiative of other “shaping powers,” the European Union, or the United States. It will have to better articulate and publicly defend its foreign interests. Meekly reflecting on its limitations is an excuse to avoid responsibility and take concrete steps when international rules are ignored. If Germany wants to forge a stronger Europe and a peaceful world order, it needs to ignore the hype about its power and think more courageously about how to use it.

At another point in the article, Nicholson states without proof: ‘Nor can Germany truly shape, let alone protect, open markets for its goods without the backbone of U.S. military power.’

Hardly a day goes by without some pundit, usually American, chastising Germany for having a barely-functional military and for staying out of most international conflicts. Usually, the argument boils down to: "We're the only ones who are combating Al-Shabbab in the Horn of Africa and ISIS and the Houthis and the Taliban and al-Nusra and Chinese demands for islands and Russians in the Ukraine and a thousand other global threats and what are the Germans doing to help us? Nada! Germany, you're rich and popular and still have a semblance of a military -- start meddling in dozens of foreign conflicts!"

To which most Germans respond: Why? Germany faces no direct or indirect military threat. Its citizens overwhelmingly oppose sending troops into harm's way in remote places. What on earth would that achieve, other than dragging Germany into conflicts where its interests aren't at stake and making it a target? With no threats at home and no reason to interfere abroad, Germany hardly needs a military at all.

Its leaders prefer not to hector other countries about human-rights issues, especially when that would get in the way of lucrative contracts. The author provides no instance of American military power helping Germany economically, and I can't think of one. And the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Germany's the most popular country in the world, and one of the most prosperous, and much of the credit goes to its low-key foreign policy. Why would it change course?


Germany's Refugee-Resettlement Plans Praised

 Germany's migrant policies get a cautiously optimistic review from Canadian journalist Doug Saunders: 

What about all those tens of thousands of Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis who don’t end up bobbing lifeless in the Mediterranean or steered at gunpoint back to the southern shore? Where do they wind up?

The answer, overwhelmingly, is found here on the western edge of Germany, in the urban quilt around the Rhine and Main rivers. It is here, the booming heartland of the world’s most successful economy, that perhaps the greatest concentration of the war-weary of Africa and Asia are being received, sorted, cleaned up and placed in (figurative and literal) boxes.

No other country comes close to hosting so many fleeing people: Last year, Germany received 173,000 refugee applications (and accepted most), a third of Europe’s total and more than twice as many as the second-place country, Sweden. (Canada took 13,000 refugees last year, and expects 16,000 this year.) It is a human tide not seen since the Balkan wars of the 1990s, when as many as 438,000 refugees a year came to Germany.

In Germany...the public and their politicians are receiving the majority of Europe’s refugees with surprising calm, even optimism. While there was a brief flare-up of anti-immigrant politics earlier this year in cities of the former East Germany (where there are almost no immigrants to be found), those died away quickly. Here, even refugee advocates say they’re surprised by the broadly positive reception.

“I am really amazed at how much this country has changed – even a decade ago this would have created anger and distrust, but today I’m hearing nothing but welcome for the new refugees – people are being really open,” says Zerai Kiros Abraham, a former Eritrean refugee who now runs Project Moses, a refugee-settlement charity in Frankfurt.

They particularly want the Syrians, who tend to be middle-class and have the professional degrees and technical skills needed here...

It helps considerably that Germany has recently ended its policy of banning refugees from seeking employment: This had left many earlier asylum seekers loitering in public squares and shopping malls, falling into marginal lives and giving a bad image to immigrants in general – and depriving Germany of badly needed labour. Now they can work after three months, and employers and municipalities are pressuring Berlin to let them work sooner.

The optimism may be short-lived: Refugees, unlike immigrants, often have a difficult time settling, as they lack the language ability, the savings and connections needed to start businesses, and are often deeply traumatized. For now, the big question, across the country, is where to house them all. Many are living in thousands of state-issued shipping-container shelters, which are a blot on the landscape and tend to become undesirable.

Saunders is cherry-picking here: he focuses only on refugees: people who are actually fleeing war and persecution. Not a word about the 'refugees' from Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa. Still, it's good to see the foreign press looking past the spray-painted swastikas for once.