Conversation: European Immigration Could Hit Tipping Point in Germany

5 MINS READAug 21, 2015 | 20:24 GMT

Lynn Wise: Hi, I'm Lynn Wise, deputy editor here at Stratfor. With me today is Mark Fleming-Williams, Europe analyst. Today, we're going to be talking about the immigration crisis in the European Union. So there's been a lot of talk about immigration and asylum seekers in Europe, and people come from a lot of different angles. Can you kind of lay out the situation for us?

Mark Fleming-Williams: Yeah, absolutely. So there's been an awful lot of immigration coverage over the summer. I mean, parts of this, I have to say, August is always the quiet month; sometimes news coverage can be a little bit more excitable than it would be in other times. And I think that's particularly been the case in Calais, where there are 3,000 immigrants who are trying every night to get across the border, or get across the channel into the United Kingdom. In reality, that's a bit more of a symptom than the actual problem — and don't get me wrong, there is definitely an issue here, there is definitely a problem. But the numbers elsewhere in Europe are much greater, and actually, there are, if you look at the Mediterranean, we've got 240,000 asylum seekers have already crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, and it's only been August. So there is an issue, but really you should be looking further afield.

Lynn: So who are these asylum seekers, and why the uptick in numbers?

Mark: There's an awful lot of places in the Middle East and in North Africa particularly where the circumstances have become very uncomfortable. And so as a result, we're seeing an awful lot of uptick. They're all arriving in Europe, and they're arriving via boat quite a lot, and they arrive in Greece and Italy particularly. And at that stage, the Dublin agreement rules suggest that Greece and Italy ought to fingerprint these people as they arrive and then it's their responsibility to either find a way to send them back or integrate them. Unfortunately, the Greeks and the Italians don't necessarily see this as a Greek and Italian issue only. These immigrants aren't necessarily coming just to live in Greece; they're coming to live in Europe. 

Lynn: And so make this really treacherous journey, and they are basically refugees from these war-torn countries. And so they have a lot of needs probably. Where are they going in Europe, and it is a kind of a burden on these countries, I would imagine, to deal with them. So where is that burden falling?

Mark: Well, I mean they're particularly going to Northern Europe. Obviously, a refugee, they have — refugees and asylum seekers tend to have quite good networks, and they tend to have actually very good information. So they tend to follow the jobs. And it passes back through to Sudan that there's no jobs in Spain, there's quite a few in Germany, where the unemployment rate is very low. So we see a lot of them heading towards — the U.K. obviously has been one of the growth stories of Europe in recent times, as well as places like Sweden, Denmark and Germany. And yeah, as you mention, it does create problems, and it has been creating problems in Northern Europe particularly. But apart from Sweden and Denmark, we've also seen the rise of anti-immigration parties in places like France and the Netherlands as well, so it's across the board.

Lynn: I hear a lot about Germany, though, in the news, and the huge rise in immigrants going there. So how has Germany responded?

Mark: Absolutely. Germany's very much the elephant in the room here. Germany is essentially, if they're all going somewhere, then they're all going to Germany. Germany's asylum seeker expectations for this year, 2015, have just been pushed up from 450,000 expected asylum seekers up to 800,000. So most of this upsurge actually seems to be going to Germany. And in terms of what that means politically, the party which should be able to take advantage of this — which is the Alternative for Deutschland party — it's an anti-immigration party but that's not where it began. It's only recently kind of switched over. It was originally an anti-euro party. So Mrs. Merkel's government doesn't have that same pressure that perhaps is being felt in Sweden and in Denmark and these other countries, because the AfD party is undergoing its own change. But also, within Germany, this anti-immigration feeling — which does exist and has grown, and we saw anti-immigration marches in Saxony and Dresden particularly at the end of last year, and they spread. But we also saw a big backlash against those anti-immigration marches. So as a result within Germany, there is more tolerance; there's more ability for these people. So there's the jobs, there is the money, but there's also less — there's more anti-anti-immigrant feeling, which allows this situation to persist for a little while longer. That said, the numbers going to Germany at the moment are gigantic compared to the rest of Europe. It's going to become an issue. The longer this goes on, it's going to become an issue. We've already seen some anti-immigrant incidents — attacks, things like that, in the last month particularly. Germany's the place to watch. That's the pressure, where the pressure valve is really building up.

Lynn: Thank you. It seems like this is a humanitarian issue, but it will have a lot of political ramifications. And I know you'll be watching that closely, so thank you. For more on immigration and Europe, please visit

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