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The Straits Times says

See opportunity in migrant dilemma

Carmaker Volkswagen's self-inflicted fall from grace, after cheating on pollution standards, is excruciating for the manner in which it undercuts Germany's moral high ground. Not only are there 11 million VW diesel cars potentially affected, but it took months before the giant company finally came clean. In stark contrast was the high-minded welcome of thousands of refugees by Chancellor Angela Merkel - a culture of prompt hospitality called Willkommenskultur that was far removed from the surliness of other Europeans.

But even generous souls in Berlin began to wilt as more migrants crossed from southern Europe through Hungary and Austria towards Germany. The stark reality is that this flow will not end soon as economic migrants are using the opportunity to sneak into their preferred destination. Dr Merkel, Germany's decisive leader, is partly to blame. Her rhetoric of no "upper limit" to Germany's willingness to grant asylum prompted the river to turn into a flood. Germany has since had to impose border controls, alongside Hungary, Slovakia and Austria. This has raised worry that the entire Schengen visa-free travel regime is at risk.

While Dr Merkel's popularity holds at about 50 per cent still, this is a steep drop from a year ago; within her own government, others like the foreign minister enjoy higher ratings. This isn't Canberra, so Dr Merkel need not worry about being stabbed in the front by her Cabinet colleagues, but the caution warnings are nevertheless lighting up as her coalition gears up for elections in 2017.

Aside from the obvious logistical challenges, the influx has divided the continent in a worrying way. East Europeans, who have no great experience with immigration, unlike the more open West, are openly rebelling against orders from Brussels to take in more. As with the euro, it must be remembered that borderless travel was essentially pushed as a political idea. Hence, any disruption, even if deemed temporary, cannot be a welcome thing. It would feed eurosceptics, whose numbers seem to be rising. Already, they've secured a referendum in Britain on continued EU membership.

The canker over refugees is boiling just as a long-running crisis has abated. Last week, the influential Euro Area Business Cycle Dating Committee declared the euro zone no longer in recession, although GDP growth has been lacklustre since the second quarter of 2013. Vast unemployment and deficits continue to plague significant parts of Europe.

Ageing Germany, whose median age is the same as that of moribund Japan, has been a shining exception, partly from leveraging migrant energy. It would be a pity for the rest of Europe if the recent upheavals cause it to shut its gates to inputs of foreign manpower, including that of genuine refugees from war-torn places.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2015, with the headline 'See opportunity in migrant dilemma'. Print Edition | Subscribe