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Europe

2 Germany with experience as bakers or lorry

drivers have learned to their cost. The government therefore estimates that the law will bring only around 25,000 people a year to Germany, at least to begin with. Rainer Dulger of Gesamtmetall, an engineering employers’ group, reckons it will help fill one-tenth of his members’ vacancies at best. “As long as we don’t address the question of recognising foreign qualifications, we won’t have substantial change,” says Rüdiger Wapler of the Institute for Employment Research in Stuttgart. Filiz Polat, of the opposition Greens, detects a whiff of hostility to foreigners in the resistance to establishing a more generous regime. Some in the ruling Christian Democratic Union (cdu) indeed cling to the old canard that Germany is not a “migration country”, even though one-quarter of the population has a migrant background and over 100,000 people are naturalised each year. It was less than 20 years ago that a cdu politician could campaign against a scheme to recruit foreign it workers under the slogan Kinder statt Inder! (“Children instead of Indians!”). Lingering fears among conservatives of immigrants swelling welfare rolls are reflected in the bill’s many restrictive provisions. The law has also been caught up in the political slipstream of 2015-16, when over a million asylum-seekers entered Germany. Between 10,000 and 15,000 still arrive every month, and few of those ordered to leave do so. The compromise hashed out by the coalition partners rules out migrants “changing lanes” from asylum to work—although some who have found jobs or training will be able to stay—and the skilledworker law is accompanied by a controversial bill to toughen deportation rules. “The mingling [of asylum and immigration] produces problems,” says Lars Castellucci, a Social Democrat mp who backs the law. He says the skilled-worker law could be amended one day if it proves ineffectual. Thomas Bauer, chair of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration, proposes expanding the pathways for potential immigrants to include language fluency or previous work experience in Germany. But until the asylum numbers are cut it may be hard to further relax the rules for immigrant workers. In the meantime, firms will have to manage the new law, employers’ groups must get to grips with a potpourri of foreign training systems and embassies will need more resources. Workers from the Western Balkans, who already enjoy special access to Germany, can wait up to a year to have applications processed. Oliver Maassen, head of hr at Trumpf, a machinetools and laser-manufacturing outfit based near Stuttgart, says the firm once spent 11 months and tens of thousands of euros trying to secure a visa for a qualified Indian

The Economist May 18th 2019

colleague who wanted to move to Germany. Despite employers’ pleas, the new law may ultimately be off-target. Mr Wapler notes that job growth in the semi-skilled professions it covers has been slower than in the low- and high-skilled sectors, and that such roles are anyway at risk of automation. Yet the law also carries a symbolic value that may have been overlooked. Mr Bauer says it creates a presumption that immigrants have a right to seek work in Germany, whatever the caveats. What has long been clear in fact will at last be enshrined in law: that Germany is a country of immigration. “Employers may not think this is a huge thing,” he says, “but I do.” 7

Bulgaria

Secrets and lies SOFIA

Politicians try to explain how they afford their splendid apartments

F

ew bulgarians who walk by the Letera, a new luxury apartment building in Sofia, can read the texts inscribed on its façade. They are written in the Glagolitic alphabet, a medieval ecclesiastic script. This is part of the building’s aesthetic, a sort of religious-nationalist elitism. The advertising video on its website is a tribute to early Slavic Christianity, featuring cowled monks in the mist. Over the entrance, the 91st Psalm offers protection for the righteous from their enemies: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, abideth in the shadow of the Almighty.” Tsvetan Tsvetanov (pictured), the owner of the Letera’s penthouse, may wish he dwelt in a somewhat more secret place. In late March Mr Tsvetanov, the second most powerful figure in the ruling gerb party, was revealed to have obtained his apartment in a complicated exchange that valued it at about €250,000 ($280,000), per-

haps a quarter of the going rate. He denies any wrongdoing, but has resigned as gerb’s parliamentary leader. Since then nearly a dozen other highly placed officials have been found to have received cut-price apartments in various buildings around Sofia. Many have stepped down, including the then justice minister. Even the chairman of the anti-corruption commission is under investigation, for failing to declare that his top-floor loft included his building’s entire 186-squaremetre roof terrace. (He claimed it was shared by all the residents, though it can be reached only from his apartment.) The “apartments scandal” has infuriated Bulgarian citizens, even though the sums involved are far smaller than in other corruption affairs, such as the billion-dollar collapse of the politically connected Corporate Commercial Bank in 2014. “The thing about this story is that you can touch it,” explains Polina Paunova of Svobodna Evropa, the Bulgarian branch of Radio Free Europe, which first reported the scandal. The media have become obsessed by details of unlisted balconies and private elevators, but the real implications go much deeper. The most difficult problem for corrupt politicians is justifying cash holdings that vastly exceed their salaries, explains Nikolay Staykov of the Anti-Corruption Fund, a watchdog that worked with Svobodna Evropa. Property transactions provide ways to launder such money, such as declaring a purchase at the lowest plausible value, and then reselling it to a friendly party at the highest plausible price. The scandal involves powerful commercial interests as well. The Letera was built by Arteks, a developer that is also building a 34-storey apartment tower that would be the tallest in Sofia. That project, the “Golden Century” building, is opposed by neighbourhood groups. More important, it may not be legal: its construction permit, granted in 2007, expired in November 2017. The company contends that amendments to the construction code passed by parliament in January 2017, when Mr Tsvetanov was leader of the gerb faction, retroactively granted it an extra three years. Mr Tsvetanov says that when he was negotiating to buy his apartment from Arteks, he was not aware of the problem with the Golden Century’s permit, and that in any case the amendments do not apply. Arteks’s lawyers say they do. Since they joined the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria and Romania have been subjected to special monitoring by the European Commission to check that they are making progress against corruption. Romania established an independent prosecutor’s office that convicted thousands of officials, but has since backtracked and last year fired the prosecutor. Bulgaria, meanwhile, has been evasive 1

Profile for MA Rtin

The Economist - 18.05.19  

The Economist - 18.05.19  

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