Tensions rise as professionals from EU's ailing nations flock to Germany

 

TUTTLINGEN, Germany

More than three years into an economic crisis that has threatened to tear Europe apart, one country is still on a hiring spree, and it is pulling away the best and the brightest workers from its neighbors along the way.

Thousands of professionals from recession-struck Spain and Greece have been streaming into Germany, where joblessness remains low, and some say they may never leave. The migration is the biggest test yet for the European Union's promise to wipe away economic barriers between nations, as the best-trained workers from weak countries leave home in the greatest numbers since the bloc was forged.

Now, the new right to work anywhere is bumping against old prejudices about crossing national lines. There are new strains in the partnership, with some Germans fretting about the influx and Spanish and Greek policymakers worried that their best hope for recovery is vanishing one plane ticket at a time.

The movement into Germany — a flow that has become so intense that the country has halted a decade of population decline — is just the latest development in a process that has seen Europe's richer countries strengthen even as the poorer ones become increasingly hollowed-out. While Spain, Greece and Portugal struggle to create new prospects at home, the people and companies best able to help them are fleeing for more stable opportunities elsewhere.

The creation of the European Union provided workers in its 27 nations with freedom of movement. Citizens of Western European countries can live and work anywhere in the union without special permits or visas. The same rights are rapidly being phased in for citizens of the new Eastern European members of the union.

For Paula Bernedo, 37, an engineer from the Canary Islands, an autonomous region of Spain, the billowing snow in the Black Forest town of Tuttlingen has been the least of her adjustment worries. She is one of 100 Spanish engineers who flew to Germany's industrial heartland for a visit over the summer. Thirty stayed. After losing a job in Spain, Bernedo decided to take her chances in Germany, where she had lived briefly as a student years before.

In Spain, "you've got 800 people, 900 people applying for the same job," she said. Many German companies, by contrast, say they cannot find enough qualified workers at home.

In the prosperous southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Bernedo's firm is located, regional officials say companies could use 30,000 more engineers.

Germany's unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in October. In Spain, it stood at 26.2 percent — and German-language courses at the Goethe Institute are overflowing. In Germany, overall immigration was up 17 percent in the first half of the year over the same period last year. Migration from Greece is up by more than three-quarters. From Spain and Portugal, it is up by half.

Those workers are plunging into a world of steady jobs and formal work relationships, where colleagues call one another "Herr" and "Frau" for years on end, rather than using first names.

"The way people work on projects, it's totally different," said Bernedo, who has worked at Binder, a laboratory-equipment manufacturer, since September. "Here you have to get appointments with other people. In Spain, we say, okay, let's get together and do it. It's so serious here."

Germany's gain is Spain's loss, and Bernedo said that she has no plans to return — for now. In a few weeks, her husband and 5-year-old son will move to Germany, too. The Spanish Embassy has collaborated on programs to find work for its citizens in Germany, and every emigration eases the pressure on Spain's frayed safety net. But some who stay put in Europe's struggling countries have expressed frustration with Germany, saying it pushes austerity on its neighbors and reaps rewards for itself.

"Our country is really upset" about workers leaving, Bernedo said. "They're thinking, 'We've paid for their education, and now they're producing for Germany.' "

German economists, by contrast, look at their country's shrinking, aging population and say that attracting immigrants is the only way they will be able to pay their bills in the years to come. But just as Spain is not fully comfortable giving up workers, Germany isn't fully comfortable taking them in. That would require a deep shift in attitudes in a country that doesn't have much of a tradition of multiculturalism or openness to outsiders.

"For us, this is of existential importance," said Heinz-Rudi Link, the head of a regional development group that organized the Spanish engineers' initial trip to the Black Forest. "In five to 10 years, we will have a lack of 500,000 people. Because there is nobody."

At the Maurer heating and cooling company, in the nearby town of Villingen-Schwenningen, the owner said he tries to pin down qualified workers the moment he can.

"We list jobs in the newspaper, and we don't get any applications," Clemens Maurer said. "If people come to the company and show us that they're properly educated, we take them straight to the office and we sign a contract."

His company has to turn down jobs because it cannot find enough workers, he said, calling it a "bottleneck for growth." Maurer just hired an engineer from Spain and is interested in finding other workers.

But many ordinary Germans view their new neighbors with caution. A recent local television show about some of the Spanish engineers was called "Dr. Guest Worker," a reference to a 1960s program that brought Turkish manual laborers to Germany without granting citizenship to them or their children. The Turkish workers never returned home, but many Germans never welcomed them, creating an underclass with fewer rights and fostering resentments that persist to this day.

"The friendly behavior depends on the number" of workers who come, said Hartmut Reichl, an official at the Baden-Wuerttemberg Finance Ministry. But given time, he said, skilled foreign workers would win German hearts.

"Germans like to see others work. And when they work, they are loved," Reichl said.

Meanwhile, the new arrivals are finding strategies to fit in, sending e-mails to ensure clarity if they don't understand the thick regional accent that sometimes trips up even native German speakers, and using extra tact on the production floor, where workers sometimes don't take kindly to foreigners telling them what to do.

"I tried to get some people here to go out and get a beer with me, just chat," said Rafael Montoya, 30, another engineer at Binder, who moved from the Mediterranean city of Valencia in mid-August. No one took him up on the offer.

Now he has a new plan: a capoeira studio in the middle of Tuttlingen, a town of 34,000. So far, Montoya has no one with whom to practice the Brazilian martial art, but he hopes to find some people soon. He's ready to stick around, even if his neighbors seem a bit old.

"There are so many pharmacies here," he said. "There's one on every corner. It's like Spain with bars."

- - -

Washington Post correspondent Petra Krischok contributed to this report.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam