When German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that her country would be able to absorb 500,000 Middle Eastern refugees a year, she was seen as being motivated by both compassion and pragmatism, according to the Washington Post. The pragmatism part stems from the fact that Germans are not producing enough babies to replace an aging population. As the UK Daily Mail recently reported, a census reported that Germany’s population had dropped by 1.5 million people. If current trends continue, Germany will drop 19 percent of its population by 2060.
This kind of population drop is simply unsustainable. Germany needs new young people to work in its factories and farms and earn money to finance its generous welfare state. Measures that included subsidizing larger families have thus far not worked.
So, it must have seemed like mana from heaven to Chancellor Merkel when hundreds of thousands of Middle Easterners and North Africans suddenly showed up in Europe seeking, so they said, a better life. All of a sudden, young people were available to become workers in Germany, filling jobs and paying taxes. That fact was one reason that Merkel said, in effect, you all come. The refugee crisis, sparked as it was by Obama administration foreign policy failures, might be just what Germany needed.
Within just a few days of making the announcement, Germany reversed itself and announced that it was reintroducing border controls on a “temporary basis.” So many migrants were showing up that Germany’s government services were being overwhelmed. This order has caused a cascading effect because to get to Germany, the migrants have to pass through countries such as Austria and Hungary. Those refugees having trouble getting into Germany are now the problem of those countries.
Clearly Chancellor Merkel had not though through the consequences of an open border for the migrants. Now border checks are going up all over Europe, reversing the long-standing policy of the European Union that instituted open borders between member countries.
Europe is now confronted with another, long-term problem. How can it absorb potentially millions of migrants who come from a culture that is utterly alien to Europe? European countries have traditionally been very poor at assimilating immigrants of differing cultures, unlike the United States. Hence, entire neighborhoods have grown up in many European cities that might be located in the Middle East. The attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris is just an extreme manifestation of the clash between European culture, steeped in tolerance and secularism, and recent immigrants from Muslim countries, where religion is all-encompassing, and there is no room for tolerance of other faiths. Chronic unemployment among the immigrant class has certainly not helped.
One does not have to give way to fears of ISIS infiltrators among the migrants to wonder if Europe is begging to have the very characteristics that its inhabitants cherish changed and not for the better. European countries will be faced with a number of difficult choices.
First, it could bar immigration and enforce that prohibition as necessary. That policy could lead to death and suffering on a massive scale that would be unacceptable to the conscience of anyone with human feelings.
Second, it could take a more proactive role, perhaps with the help of the United States, in pacifying the turbulent lands in the Middle East and North Africa. This policy would involve a long-term commitment of military power that would put a strain on European economies and might become a political liability if casualties start to mount.
Last, it could be more proactive in persuading immigrants from outside Europe to assimilate and accept European traditions of tolerance, The United States has been adroit in encouraging this process so that the first generation of immigrants have traditionally been more fervently American than many native-born citizens and the second and third generations indistinguishable from the native born, with certain exceptions for culture and customs. Indeed, a great American tradition exists that not only has immigrants absorbing American culture, but adding to that culture the best of their own. The American education system had traditionally been one of the great engines for how this happens, at least before pernicious policies such as bi-lingual education and multiculturalism began to rear their ugly heads. Thomas Sowell describes how this process has worked in his book Ethnic America.
Adapting American methods of assimilation would change Europe, as well. Nationality in European countries has traditionally been based on national origin. A German finds it difficult to become a Frenchman, and vice-versa. Adapting the American style of handling immigrants would mean that someone born in Damascus or Tripoli could become a good German or Frenchman just by adopting the culture and language of those countries. Such a system would be a big change for Europe and almost certainly for the better.