The Way Back Home: two accounts of life in Germany

Lavenir, a 27 year-old Cameroonian, has chosen a window seat on his flight from Germany to Cameroon. The world is small up here, and the towns, rivers and mountains pass by.

Dschang, Lavenir’s hometown.

Over the phone, Lavenir tells me that he is returning to Cameroon with mixed feelings: “I am happy to see all my friends, to eat my favourite dishes, to be back in my room where I was living throughout my boyhood.”

But there could have been a more joyful reason to take a flight to Central Africa. A couple of days ago his Aunt passed away. When Lavenir heard the news, he booked his flight within minutes, despite the cost. “She had raised me since I was ten years old. I was always close to her. She is also my mother. I could not stay in Germany in that sad moment. I wanted to be with my family back at home.”

Where do you belong when you have two homes? Lavenir has been asking himself this question for years. Since he arrived in the country of roast pork and Oktoberfest, his vow to return to Cameroon one day has never left his mind. “I will leave Germany after my studies,’ he says to himself, “I am sure about it!”

His family are waiting for him at the airport, and they welcome him with a bag full of fresh peanuts. They are curious: how is it, living in Europe?

His short stay in the grass fields of the Western highlands near the border of Nigeria is full of nostalgia. The air is pure, and the rainy season is about to end. Children play football at the end of the street, and young mothers hold their babies as they sell fresh fruit.  

But Lavenir must shortly return to Kaiserslautern, a modest, medium-sized town near the Vosges. “I am also happy to return to Kaiserslautern to have my normal life, my daily routine. Even though I miss my family and the delicious African food – that I still prefer.”

At the end of the week, his flight – via Addis Ababa – carries him back to his home away from home. It’s likely that he will experience the same journey in the coming years. At that point, though, there will be no going back.

Lavenir is one of numerous Africans who leave their country to study in Europe. In Cameroon alone, between one and  two thousand graduates apply each year to Germany, with only a few hundred eventually making the trip.

Germany enjoys a good reputation among young Cameroonians: at a time when millions of refugees are fleeing their homelands to come to Europe, the procedure to get formally accepted as a student  is complicated and selective. Alongside the requirement for a solid grasp of German and a letter of acceptance from a German university, applicants must also have a minimum bank balance of several thousand euros, as well as the contact information of people already living in Germany. In Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, it is not uncommon to wait up to 12 weeks to get an appointment at the German embassy.

“The question is to what extent young African students can give back to their home institutions,” says Dr. Cristina D’Alessandro, a senior fellow at the centre on Governance at the University of Ottawa. “Policy investigations showed financial gaps for African countries caused by brain drain. These people leaving for Europe produce financial income but they pay taxes abroad.”  

Government revenue is not all that’s missing. “Professionals lack in certain disciplines like doctors. They are needed in their home countries.” But there are also those who prefer to return to their home countries after their studies, and Lavenir is one of them.

Unlike some of his fellow German students, Lavenir cannot benefit from a scholarship. Whereas other students will be busy partying, Lavenir spends his entire Saturday working in a factory

For now, Lavenir has settled down in Kaiserslautern. “On Mondays, I am doing some research about where I can work next,” he says. “I like to go my lectures at the university. But to be honest – my occasional jobs are even more important”, he says.

In contrast to many Cameroonians, he knows that life can be as challenging in Germany as in his home country. “I never had any too optimistic illusions about how life would be here,” he says.

Unlike some of his fellow German students, Lavenir cannot benefit from a scholarship. Whereas other students will be busy partying, Lavenir spends his entire Saturday working in a factory. The rest of his time he has to study, and so has little time with his friends. Though he never misses an opportunity to attend church on Sunday – a tradition that seems almost anachronistic in a mostly secularised western society.

His friends support him, and they are always ready to listen to his troubles: “It is not that easy to find jobs in this region. The neighbouring towns are small. Sometimes you only get temporary employment. With the money I earn I can’t help my Cameroonian family financially, as I thought in the beginning.”

Karim

Karim looks tired. He’s at a dead end. Unable to work in Germany, he now has no choice but to return to Benin. The 40-year-old has been living in a tiny town in the east of the Germany for almost 15 years, and hasn’t seen his children since he left Benin. His German is poor, and he spends the majority of time at home.

Karim’s asylum claim was rejected on the grounds that Benin has a stable government, and was therefore classified as an economic migrant: “Since 2004 I am living in Germany but I never got my permission to work. So I am just eating and sleeping. I really want to work.”

His children will soon be able to welcome their father back, as once Karim knew his decision to leave would be financed, it was clear there was no alternative.  “They (the German government) give me 2500 euros within the next months as soon as I’ll arrive in Benin. I take the money to start a motor taxi business. I want to help my family.”

In 2015, the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research (IFO) calculated that the total cost for the integration of refugees accepted into Germany was around €21 billion.

In Germany, social welfare organizations like Caritas are in charge of providing aid to individuals such as Karim, helping them return to their homeland. There are more than 150 such networks, all mandated by the International Organization of Migration. Though only one in seven returning refugees go to Africa or to the Middle East, while many relocate to Eastern Europe.

In 2016 the German state subsided both the Reintegration and Emigration Programmes for Asylum-Seekers in Germany (REAG) and Government Assisted Repatriation Programme (GARP) with €10 million – a fraction of what is spent by public and private institutions. In 2015, the Munich-based Institute for Economic Research (IFO) calculated that the total cost for the integration of refugees accepted into Germany was around €21 billion. In addition, the EU contributes to these programmes via its €3.1 billion Fund for Asylum, Migration and Integration (AMIF).

The way back

Individuals such as Lavenir who have been at least partly educated abroad have a strong chance of finding a job back home. For Dr. Cristina d’Alessandro, this is a reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future of Sub-Saharan Africa: “Cameroon universities are improving decisively; the question is raised how much they are capable to reabsorb the brain drain. But you have a variety of institutions that are more and more internationally competitive. As much as the political situation improves and also the quality of life, I am confident that the brain drain will come back to its country.”

Lavenir will most likely be a part of this group, but the time hasn’t come yet. “Five years after my graduation I would like to return to Cameroon. I think it would be good if I start working here a bit for a few years to acquire experience. But then I want to return. I want to start a project back in my home country.” Upon returning, he will belong to what he calls the “privileged ones”, those Cameroonians who have been fortunate enough to study abroad. In Cameroon, there is a belief that this privilege is followed by a duty to put into practice what you have learnt some thousand miles away.

Which was exactly what two other Cameroonians did after returning home. Morene and Chief Charles Morfaw concluded their studies in Germany in the 1990s, and when they returned home they started a business – the business of education. Their project, ‘Educate the Generation of Tomorrow’ began with a humble primary school, and later a secondary school. The institutions are based in Lavenir’s home town, Dschang, and are famous in the region for producing high-achieving students.  

Lavenir outside the Morfaw family’s house in Dschang.

In Dschang, everyone goes to Church on Sunday. The service can last up to four hours – life is different here.

Back in Germany, Lavenir turns on the television. He could not vote in the recent German elections, but he sensed a change: issues over immigration are causing tension and harsh divides in German society. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AFD) party in Kaiserslautern won ten percent, which worried Lavenir, but not enough for him to return home prematurely.

~

by Luis Nicolas Jachmann

Interview: Daniel Roeder on the future of Germany and Europe

The Pan European recently caught up with Daniel Roeder, a lawyer by trade and co-founder of the Pulse of Europe (PoE), a grassroots initiative started in Germany that aims to promote the European Union at a local level. From Albania to Sweden, the PoE has held rallies across the continent to speak out in favour of the European project.

Daniel Röder at a rally in Frankfurt, Germany.

As you might have heard, coalition talks to form a new German government have so far been unsuccessful. Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was not able to reach an agreement with the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party over the refugee crisis and the environment. Daniel told us what the ramifications could be for Germany and Europe.

So, the liberal FDP recently pulled out of coalition talks in Germany. Were you surprised?

Absolutely, what happened was totally unexpected. We still don’t know the exact reasons: progress was made in certain areas, and I haven’t heard anything specific – just very broad, abstract phrases like ‘we were on the wrong path’. It remains to be seen what the real reason was.

What’s next for Merkel?

Well, it’s difficult to guess…there are two options. Either new elections, or she will try a minority government, which is a difficult thing and is probably very unstable. Maybe the Social democrats will change their minds…the situation is new: the parties need to accept their responsibilities, because I don’t think new elections will bring new results.

Which outcome is more likely?

It’s impossible to say right now, but the situation for Merkel is even more difficult than before.

What is the current mood on the ground?

People are shocked and surprised. No one knows why the talks failed – if there had been one topic during negotiations that the Liberals had said, ‘that’s a no-go topic for us and we won’t deal with it,’ it would have been understandable why they walked away. But they had made progress over the last two days – politicians were tweeting that progress had been made, and then the next day it was the opposite.

If a snap election is called, do you think the far-right AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) will gain an even bigger share of the vote?

Possibly. The CDU haven’t managed to form a government, so obviously that could provide potential support to the AfD. Similarly, if a snap election is called, the FDP may lose votes because they are apparently the ones to blame. However, I expect that the outcome would be similar, maybe a little shift here and there, but I doubt any party would gain significantly more votes than they had in September.

AfD voters are quite heterogeneous: they are not one-of-a-kind. There’s a certain percentage of former CDU voters who wanted to show their party that they are dissatisfied with the policies of the last few years, particularly in regards to the refugee crisis…the Christian Democrats haven’t done enough, simply.

This is why I believe that the parties must try and form a government now: they have to deal with the outcome of the elections. It’s a duty, in my opinion.

Do you feel that the parties have an obligation to making this coalition work?

Yes. To a certain extent I can understand the SPD reaction right after the elections, but there are two ways of looking at the results. Voters expressed that the Grand Coalition should not continue, but on the other hand they [the SPD] gained roughly 20% of the vote: they’re the second strongest party in parliament.

‘I think we’ve all underestimated the psychological effect of being in a communist system for over 40 years.’

All parties want to avoid losing voters, I understand that, but there’s something above party interests…a duty to the people, and that goes for any party. It’s a difficult situation for Germany and Europe.

Many of AfD’s voters come from East Germany. Why is that, and how can the government reconnect with those people?

It’s a very difficult question… it’s not only Eastern Germany, it’s a phenomenon that has in different degrees spread all over the country, but the AfD is particularly strong in East Germany. I think we’ve all underestimated the psychological effect of being in a communist system for over 40 years. This is true not only for Eastern Germany but the whole of Eastern Europe.  If you look at Poland or Hungary or other countries where populists and nationalists are regaining power, I think that they are looking for their Polish, Czech, Hungarian, etc. identity. Many countries were elated after the Iron Curtain fell, and they then tried to connect with the European Union, but perhaps it was too fast. I think it was still the right decision, but in a way they are still suffering from that experience…they seem to find an answer in nationalism.

A Pulse of Europe rally in Cologne, Germany.

What can the government in Germany and the EU do?

Well, they must re-engage with people, and listen more carefully to the problems that they are raising. A large part of this is addressing globalisation: people are overwhelmed by it, and a natural reaction is to withdraw to a smaller unit – the village, the neighbourhood, the nation. Germany and the EU need to provide solutions for creating a world in which globalisation doesn’t leave people feeling lost.

Obviously, Germany is not alone, and this ties into a larger movement of populism sweeping across Europe. Can grassroots organisations such as the Pulse of Europe tackle this?

I hope so, yes. When we started off at the end of last year, the mood was quite dark. Everybody thought that there was no real answer to Brexit, to Trump. But we proved that there are thousands of people who believe in a united Europe, in democracy and the rule of law. The problem now is that many people thought ‘job done’ after the French elections. Yet for me it’s now an even more critical situation – we need to create a new future and there needs to be a quick response to Macron’s suggestions.

I’m not saying Germany or other European countries should exclaim, ‘oh great, Macron, we agree to your catalogue of 40 plus topics.’ No!

The only thing he is saying is, ‘let’s have a serious discussion about Europe,’ yet so far there has been no response. That’s part of the problem with the coalition talks in Germany. There needs to be a quick response, otherwise Macron will have an internal problem in a couple of years.

Do you feel Macron is a lone figure in Europe?

Yes, that’s the problem. He has very much linked his personal success with the European project. Macron knows that he has to undergo a lot of social reforms within France, which is a difficult task. Certainly, he needs success within Europe – but obviously that requires assistance.

The Franco-German relationship is often seen as the heart of Europe. What effect do you think Macron has had on this relationship so far?

I think it’s been quite positive. The perception in Germany is also quite positive. But there are also some voices who raise doubts: the traditional German narrative is that we don’t want to pay for France. But that twists the story around…no one is saying we have to pay them, and if we want to improve and protect the European project, we need to invest money.

This narrative doesn’t consider the counterpoint: what would Germany have to pay if the European Union fails?

What’s on the agenda for the Pulse of Europe in 2018?

Many things. We still believe that Brexit can be avoided, but there needs to be some kind of push from the UK.  We would love to interlink with the anti-Brexit movements, but they need to take the first step.

‘We still believe that Brexit can be avoided…’

We are focusing also on Eastern Europe and civilian movements. Macron has said that there should be a civilian participation project in renewing Europe. We’ve made contact with him over that and have asked what exactly is his vision for the project. Maybe we will join in, provided we remain independent.

We also want to help other civilian movements in Eastern Europe to fight for democracy because it’s a serious situation there. I know from our people in Poland and Prague that it is already difficult to assemble demonstrations – freedom of speech is at stake, and that is obviously fundamental for democracy.

Also on the 6th May there will be a Pulse of Europe day in Frankfurt… the City granted us the Paulskirche, which is an honour. We will try to create a huge demonstration for all things Europe, and possibly issue a manifesto.

We will send a message to all European politicians that the European project is moving forward, through the people.

~

Max Caskie

Opinion: Poland must stop alienating Europe

Warsaw’s ‘Law and Justice Party’ is now embroiled in three major disputes with the EU and Germany. Judy Dempsey writes in Carnegie Europe that Poland is alienating itself from its neighbours, and must stop ‘damaging its own interests’.

By Max Caskie

Polish President Andrzej Duda

War Reparations

Warsaw’s parliament research service has concluded that the country has a ‘right to demand reparations from Germany for the loss of life and damage it suffered during World War Two.’ The statement was issued on Tuesday, and has been met with ire in the German capital. Poland maintains that it was ‘bullied by the former Soviet Union not to seek reparations’ in 1953, and that the figure could be as high as $1 trillion. Six million Poles, including three million Polish Jews, were killed under Nazi occupation. Several cities were destroyed, with Warsaw having been razed to the ground after a failed uprising in 1944.

Angela Merkel’s government responded by saying that Germany has already paid reparations on an ‘enormous scale’. Merkel’s spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, stated, ‘In the German government’s view, there is no reason to doubt the validity under international law of the act of declining reparations 1953…Therefore this question is in our view resolved both legally and politically.’

Bialowieza Forest

Since July, tensions have increased between Poland and Europe over logging in Bialowieza, home to the continent’s oldest forest. According to Deutsche Welle, Poland argues that ‘the logging is necessary to fight an outbreak of bark beetles.’

European Bison in Białowieża Forest

Currently, an injunction has been ordered against Poland to cease logging as the EU high court investigates the case. By ignoring this injunction and continuing to allow logging, Poland risks further infringement procedures, and the EU executive may ‘withhold EU structural funds from Poland – something allowed in EU treaties, but never used before. Poland receives 21 billion euros ($25 million) in EU structural funds each year, much of it for environmental protection.’ If found guilty, Poland could face a minimum fine of 8.4 million euros.

The Polish Judiciary

Simultaneously in July, the European Commission raised a separate legal battle against Poland over a new domestic law that may undermine the independence of Polish courts. The new law enables the Minister of Justice to choose (and remove) Court Presidents, prolong the mandate of judges who are of retirement age, and discriminates over gender through introducing different retirement ages for male and female judges. The Commission has given Poland one month to amend the law, or face a referral to the European Court of Justice.

Puzzling Attitudes

Poland has lost an ally with Brexit – the former believed Britain acted as a counterweight to the ‘Franco-German axis’. But rather than reaching out to its neighbours —Poland ‘is alienating Germany, the bloc’s most important country.’

Until recently, Poland was in favour of a strong European Comission (the very commission that it now faces in court), and European integration. Now, fighting two separate legal battles with serious ramifications, the latest decision to revisit the reparations issue will ‘only exacerbate its already strained ties with Germany.’

Britain: Nigel Farage delivers a well-received Brexit speech at AfD Berlin rally

The former UKIP leader was met with rancorous applause at an Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) rally in Berlin, arguing that, ‘Brexit may embarrass Merkel and Schulz, but they need to start talking about it to protect the jobs of their own workers.’

By Max Caskie

Nigel Farage, Member of the European Parliament

Farage also pointed out that there was a “lack of debate in the German campaign about the UK’s split from Brussels”, something which was evident in the duel between Merkel and Schulz earlier this week. The MEP claims it is because Brexit is a ‘huge embarrassment’ for EU leaders – though the Centre for European Reform argues that this is not the case.  

He said to reporters, “(I’m trying) to get a proper debate going in the biggest, richest and most important, powerful country in Europe about not just the shape of Brexit but perhaps even the shape of the European project to come.”

The AfD was founded in 2013 by a group of German economists in response to the Eurozone crisis. The party’s objectives include having a Brexit style referendum on both the Eurozone and the European Union. Currently, it is polled at around 11 percent support, which would make it “the largest opposition party if Merkel wins, as expected, and renews her ‘grand coalition’ with the SPD.” The party is known for its controversial views, having stated in the past that “German border guards should open fire on illegal immigrants “if necessary“.”

AfD members were enthusiastic about Farage’s call for Germans to “say to Brussels: look, the reason the Brits left is because you’re behaving so badly, you’re taking away so much of people’s freedom, liberty and democracy”.

Reuters reported that Beatrix von Storch, deputy chairwoman of the AfD, takes ‘hope from Farage’, and was quoted as saying, “Nigel Farage showed the impossible is possible if you just believe in it and fight this fight – he did that for more than two decades and that makes him a role model for us.”

Farage also pushed for Germany to negotiate a deal with Britain without Brussels: “Merkel needs to know that unless she tells Brussels to come to a common-sense accommodation, then she will be putting the interests of Brussels above the interests of common people.” He also stated that, “Trade is a two-way street. If it [Brussels] denies a good deal to the UK, it is denying a deal to the German workers.”

Yet Politico argues it is a misguided belief that Berlin will come to the aid of Britain in the form of a ‘soft Brexit’, because Germany will always favour the single market over any tariff-free access deal.

You can watch Nigel Farage’s speech in full here:

 

Opinion: the Merkel/Schulz ‘duel’ was dull, but that’s a good thing.

It was labelled by the German press as ‘das Duell’. Yet Merkel and Schulz agreed on all the major issues, and the former emerged as the clear victor. But in the current political climate, Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky argues the uninspired debate was a ‘gift from heaven’.

By Max Caskie

Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz pictured with Jean-Claude Juncker. 

Christian Lindner, the FDP party leader, quipped that the debate was like, ‘a long marriage, where there is the occasional quarrel, but both sides know that they have to stick together in the future, too.’ The disagreements were centred around Trump, Turkey’s EU accession and the migrant crisis.

Despite these potential flashpoints, Schulz failed to seize the initiative and delineate himself from his opponent. That the pair agreed on most of the major issues led to it being called ‘more a duet than a duel’.

Yet Bershidsky posits that this consensus is good news: there is enough polarisation taking place elsewhere. For example, the Netherlands has yet to form a government ‘based on the outcome of the general election held in March…the coalition talks are the longest in 40 years’.

The same deep divisions can be seen with Brexit which ‘shows no signs of subsiding’, and in the US, where people are still unclear as to what ‘Trump’s victory and his presidency are about’. Even Macron, the supposed new face of politics, has become aware of the number of people who used their vote tactically to keep Le Pen out.

In contrast, despite the German incumbent coalition’s ‘fatigue after ruling jointly for the last four years’, there doesn’t seem to be a strong alternative coalition structure.

So, is the Economist right to label the duel as a failure and a lack of a ‘clash of ideas’? Bershidsky says not, and the evidence is in the lack of support for more radical parties: Die Linke and Alternative for Germany (AfD) only have 15-20 percent combined support.

This is less than Schulz’s Social Democrats (SPD) hold 23 percent and a lot less than Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) with 40 percent. Given these figures, it appears most Germans are happy with the status quo.

The desire for ‘more of the same’ was obvious when discussing foreign policy, a stage on which Germany has tried hard to play a minor role on in recent times. Neither Schulz or Merkel were ‘interested in Ukraine or North Korea, and Russia only came up once…’ Any ground that Schulz tried to gain over Turkey, where 12 Germans are currently imprisoned as political prisoners, dealt no decisive blows to Merkel. The duel showed that both the SPD and the CDU are, for the most part, focused on a ‘rather tame domestic agenda’.

Overall, Bershidsky says that ‘the German press ought to hold the criticism.’ Many other countries in the West are faced with ideological crises and deep political cleavages. Merkel and Schulz’s difficulties lie only in how to provide more of the same stability that their coalition has become synonymous with.