Come back to Germany, Pepe

In one corner - Germany, in search of skilled workers to feed its recovery. In the other, a Spain in crisis, where young graduates have no future. As in the sixties, a new flow of economic migrants might be making their way north.

Published on 24 January 2011 at 13:04

In the time of Alfredo Landa, the hero of the film "Come to Germany, Pepe” massive Spanish emigration to Germany in the sixties drew in the peasants of Galicia, Extremadura and Andalusia. But Germany today needs Pepes without berets: it needs them with qualifications and a diploma. At least, so says a German report that could provide food for thought to the media at the upcoming Spain-Germany summit in Madrid on February 3.

The phenomenon is grounded in reality. Germany has a recognised shortage of qualified technicians. But could this fact act as a palliative for Spanish unemployment, as happened in the sixties? What’s immediately striking is that the situations are not comparable.

In Madrid, a government at a low ebb

In 1960 Spain signed an agreement on labour contracts with West Germany’s vast industrial sector, at the heart of the "German miracle” - contracts that were managed by the Spanish Institute of Migration. By 1973 more than half a million Spanish had emigrated to Germany. Of these, about 80 percent returned home. The phenomenon brought in foreign currency for Franco's Spain and filled the manual labour shortages in the Germany of that era. The world of today is very different.

Germany is not going through any "miracle", but has been able till now to maintain significant growth thanks to exports. It does, however, have a significant shortage of skilled workers. Against this backdrop Germany’ Federal Employment Agency (BA) has just released a ten-point plan to resolve the problem.

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The focus of the plan is on improving education and promoting the integration of women into the workforce. Both tacks would result in an increase of several million jobs by 2025. Better integration of women into the workforce could fill three million full-time jobs alone, some estimates suggest. However, the problem will not be resolved without resorting to immigration, notes Raimund Becker, a member of the board of the BA, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. According to Becker, Germany will have to import 800,000 foreigners. From there, the data is linked to two political demands.

In Madrid, that of a government at a low ebb whose sovereignty is hostage to the European authorities and that needs to send out some message of hope with respect to employment policy. In Berlin, that of an administration losing prestige in Brussels for its selfish and arrogant policy but which sees no harm in tossing out lifelines to the profligates from the south, half-drowned and with little relish for the diktat of German austerity. The needs of both governments collide at the bilateral summit in Madrid. According to Der Spiegel, the issue will be high on the agenda on February 3.

Thousands of young Spaniards in Berlin

The German offer of employment is addressed not to Spain, but to all those European countries plunged most deeply in difficulties, including those brains going to waste in eastern Europe. The Spanish government, which is not contesting the German diktat and has confined itself to raising only mild objections in Berlin, will receive this reprieve like the first rains in May. But what is it really worth?

The emigration to Germany of young Spaniards with college degrees is already a reality. There are thousands of them in Berlin, usually employed in precarious part-time jobs. So when deputy parliamentary spokesman of the German CDU, Michael Fuchs declared that "in southern and eastern Europe there are plenty of young people out of work”, it was hardly the discovery of sliced bread.

What is clear is that Germany wants to change the migration table: fewer peasants from Anatolia (Turkish "Pepes", more or less), and more graduates without a future from Spain, Greece and eastern Europe. That's a lot of people for the few thousand jobs to go around between now and 2025. Instead of "Come to Germany, Pepe", we might instead be looking at a remake of Luis García Berlanga's “Welcome, Mr. Marshall” (1952) on the vain hopes raised by the prospect of the Marshall Plan coming to a tiny Spanish village. Welcome, Mister Müller?

Translated from the Spanish by Anton Baer

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