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IMMIGRATION

Germany to tighten controls on Polish and Czech borders as migrant numbers rise

Germany said Wednesday it would step up policing of its borders with Poland and the Czech Republic, as Berlin seeks to get a grip on rising levels of illegal migration.

border police
Police stationed at the border between Poland and Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany in May 2023. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Patrick Pleul

Federal police would “carry out additional flexible, targeted controls on the (people) smuggling routes” along the borders with its two eastern neighbours, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said at a press conference.

The pressure has been growing on Faeser to tighten controls, as the number of illegal entries into Germany has risen over recent months.

Between January and August this year, federal police have detected 70,753 people who had entered Germany illegally, a nearly 60-percent increase on the same period last year.

The surge has reignited the debate in Germany over how best to control immigration, bringing back memories of the 2015 migrant crisis, when tens of thousands of people streamed into the country.

READ ALSO: Why German police are against eastern border controls

Germany had already upped the number of police carrying out search operations in the border area in recent months, as numbers began to rise.

“My goal is to put maximum pressure on smugglers and to protect people,” Faeser said.

The interior minister recently raised the possibility of implementing fixed controls along the border with Poland and the Czech Republic, a measure already in place along the boundary with Austria.

All are members of the European Union and of Europe’s Schengen open-borders zone.

The reintroduction of border checks in the Schengen Area is permitted only in exceptional circumstances and must be notified with Brussels before it can be implemented.

European debate

Faeser said she did not “rule out” imposing fixed controls in future if the new measures did not prove effective enough.

The moveable controls would not however need to be notified with the European Union, Faeser said.

She had received the necessary go-ahead from her Czech counterpart and said she hoped to get the same approval from Poland at a meeting of European interior ministers in Brussels on Thursday.

Immigration will be at the top of the agenda for the talks, as member states wrangle over who has responsibility for new arrivals and how to better insulate the EU’s borders.

“I am very optimistic that we will reach an agreement shortly, because everyone involved is aware of how important a European solution is,” Faeser said.

The issue has been driven in particular by Italy, which has seen a surge in the number of people arriving on boats from North Africa.

The relationship between Germany and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government has frayed over the issue.

Rome has denounced Germany for its support for migrant charities helping rescue those attempting the crossing. Berlin has likewise suspended an agreement to take migrants from Italy.

Memories of crisis

In Germany, the rising number of arrivals has brought back memories of the 2015 migrant crisis, when tens of thousands of people streamed into the country.

Then Chancellor Angela Merkel kept borders open, calling on Germany to manage the influx of refugees mostly from Syria and Iraq.

While nowhere near the peak seen in 2015, the increase in migrants has reignited the debate on immigration in Germany.

In a recent cover, German news magazine Spiegel asked “can we do it again?”, echoing Merkel’s rallying cry at the height of the 2015 crisis.

Germany had “partially lost control over access” to the country during the 2015 crisis, Finance Minister Christian Lindner told the Bundestag Wednesday, saying it could not afford a repeat.

In addition to Faeser’s newly announced controls, Lindner offered to supply 500 customs officials to boost border security.

The opposition was also pressuring Scholz’s government to tamp down the issue.

On Sunday, Michael Kretschmer, the leader of Saxony, one of Germany’s federal states, called for an immediate response, including the implementation of fixed controls.

“The situation is dramatic,” said Kretschmer, a member of the opposition conservatives. Saxony borders both Poland and the Czech Republic.

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STATISTICS

What will Germany’s population look like in 2045?

What impact could immigration and an aging population have on Germany over the next two decades? A pretty significant one, according to a new report.

What will Germany's population look like in 2045?

Though Germany may sometimes feel like a country that’s resistant to change, there’s one thing that’s in constant flux: the population. 

Over the next twenty years, demographics in the country could shift significantly, according to a new report unveiled by the Federal Institute for Research on Building, Urban Affairs and Spatial Development (BBSR) in Bonn on Wednesday.  

Here are some of the key takeaways to be aware of. 

Germany is becoming nation of pensioners

Germany’s aging population has been causing headaches for politicians for several years, sparking fears about skills shortages, the stability of health services and whether or not the working population can fund the increasing number of pensioners.

By 2045, the situation is expected to be even more extreme, with researchers saying the number of over-67s in Germany could grow by 13 percent in the next couple of decades. Compared to 2021 figures, that would equate to an additional 2.2 million people who would likely be claiming a pension.

“Germany is ageing massively,” said scientific project manager Jana Hoymann. “We have individual districts where the number of older people is increasing by 40 percent – an incredibly high figure.” 

In some parts of the country, such as the districts of Vorpommern-Rügen (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), Mansfeld-Südharz (Saxony-Anhalt), Altenburger Land and Greiz (Thuringia) and Spree-Neisse (Brandenburg), demographers predict an average age of over 50. 

Immigration will have a major impact

As the age of the average German goes up, the population’s relative stability is likely to be shored up by a steady influx of foreigners, BSSR predicts.

Researchers say that the country’s population is set to grow to around 85.5 million by 2045 – an increase of 800,000 people compared to 2024. 

“Without immigration from abroad, Germany’s population would already be significantly lower in 2045 because the number of deaths will far exceed the number of births,” explained Peter Jakubowski, Head of the Spatial and Urban Development Department at the BBSR.

READ ALSO: Germany ranked fifth most popular destination for foreign workers

The institute assumes that net immigration will pick up significantly over the coming decade, with 300,000 more people arriving in Germany than leaving each year from 2031. There are multiple reasons for this, according to researchers: the pro-migration policies of the government, the family members of existing immigrants and the growing impact of climate change. 

Regional differences are becoming more striking

Despite the impact of immigration, there are likely to be huge schisms in the way the population develops in different parts of the country. 

While economically strong cities, their surrounding areas and some rural regions – particularly in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg – will continue to grow, the decline in population in structurally weak areas outside the major cities will continue. Most regions with declining populations can be found in eastern Germany – but not exclusively.

According to BSSR, the biggest growth in the population will happen in Ebersberg, a district in Bavaria to the east of Munich, as well as in the cities of Freiburg im Breisgau, Potsdam and Leipzig. In these regions, the population could swell by around 14 percent.

Freiburg am Briesgau

Freiburg im Briesgau, where the population is predicted to grow significantly in the coming years. Photo by Marco Pregnolato onUnsplash

By contrast, the districts of Erzgebirgskreis (Saxony), Greiz (Thuringia) and Mansfeld-Südharz (Saxony-Anhalt) will lose more than a fifth of their population by 2045, researchers predict. In the western states, meanwhile, populations could decline in northern Hesse, eastern North Rhine-Westphalia and parts of Saarland.

There will also be significant differences in the average age of the population in different parts of the country. While residents in certain districts could have an average age of 50, average residents in Frankfurt am Main, Munich and Heildelberg will be under 41.  

In cities like Munich, Leipzig, Berlin and Potsdam, meanwhile, the working-age population will increase by 10 percent over this period. However, the size of this demographic will sink by two percent in the country as a whole.  

READ ALSO: Where is the population in Germany growing (and declining) the most?

Population shifts will present challenges

The fact that demographics will vary so drastically in different districts could present unique problems in the future, researchers explained. In some cases, governments will face “completely contradictory challenges”, said BSSR head of development Jakubowski.

In structurally strong cities and districts with population growth, governments will need to provide enough education, childcare, healthcare and nursing care, as well as sufficient housing.

In structurally weaker cities and districts with declining populations, on the other hand, the challenge will be ensuring high-quality services and attractive housing and job markets. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s population grows to 84.3 million amid record migration

Unexpected crises could have an impact

Jabowski was keen to point out that the prognosis for 2045 should not be taken as a prediction. With unexpected events such as the wars in Ukraine and Syria having an impact on migration, immigration figures are often incredibly difficult to predict.

Just three years ago, the BBSR predicted that Germany’s population would decline to 81.9 million by 2040.

Since then, more than one million people have come to Germany as a result of the war in Ukraine alone.

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