“Inever imagined I would live to see the day when I would be thankful to the Germans,” exclaimed a French woman this week. As Germany opened its borders and welcomed the refugees, that exclamation, and a collective sigh of relief in France, summed up the popular mood here. French President Francois Hollande has bravely offered to absorb 24,000 refugees in the next two years but the figure looked miserable compared to the 8,00,000 that German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to welcome this year.
Merkel’s move has won her the grudging admiration of the French, who agree that it would pay off Germany in the long run. When France needed able-bodied men and workers after the war, it had similarly welcomed ‘refugees’ fleeing Vietnam, Algeria and the colonies in Africa. But now, they would rather the Germans do it. A fast declining population in Germany (birth rate 8.2 per 1,000 compared to 12.7 in France), an aging population, and faster population growth elsewhere in Europe have set alarm bells ringing in Berlin, for there aren’t enough young men to fill up thousands of vacancies. French commentators are quick to point out that the German move is driven as much by idealism as pragmatism.