The phrase sounds wonkish, and maybe not so surprising, coming from the former research scientist and stickler for protocols and empiricism. But what might be surprising is the context. The German Foreign Office reported in a recent edition of its newsletter (Deutschland Nachrichten) a new mainstream political consensus arriving in Germany, and one wonders whether in some ways it could be indicative of thinking more broadly in Europe.
Chancellor Merkel announced the necessity for a true “Paradigmenwechsel”, as she put it, regarding the need for streamlining visa processing and improving resources for immigrant German language acquisition.
It bears mentioning that Germany’s sudden humanitarian acceptance of over one million Syrian war refugees in 2015 reflected Angela Merkel’s leadership and a large commitment of her own political capital. This latest policy pronouncement is much less of a shock response, and much more broadly based.
The full extent of the Grand Coalition (GroKo) stands behind this move. Both wings of the coalition, the conservative CDU/CSU and the German social democrats (SPD), understand the economic need for skilled workers from outside the European Union. There are too many gaps that have been left unfilled in Europe’s largest economy, and the new policy initiative envisions more of an active effort to recruit skilled workers globally to Germany.
It is also important to note that in tandem with this stated need for measured immigration, there has been a call for further enhancing skills acquisition and training among German school leavers and the labor force overall. Also, there is still dissent along the political spectrum, with AfD on the extreme right, which has seen its support grow, critical of the new immigration stance.
That said, this latest development implies, I believe, two very important things:
First, Germany, German society and the German “brand” appear to have a global appeal. The appearance of numerous skilled positions going unfilled, and the attraction people around the world feel about possibly moving to Germany, point to a society where institutions are inclusive and work. Germany presents by and large a successful society, and that’s compelling to people.
Secondly, the country may be feeling more confident – in a word – about itself, and may see more clearly the value and efficacy of its institutions as something more defining.
The German experience with immigration is not really that new. Germany saw inflows of guest workers from Italy and Turkey during the fifties through the seventies, ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe, refugees from the Balkans and more recently the Syrian refugees. Although not really that easy, Germany has been able to “deal”. Culture, familiarity and “national feeling” are real sensitivities, as they are everywhere for people. Even given these factors, there now may be more confidence that newcomers can contribute to the national experience, hence the “paradigm shift”.