The flood of refugees from the civil war in Syria is a humanitarian disaster to which there is no end in sight. It has called forth a heart-warming response from the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, which expects to receive around 800,000 refugees this year. This will present significant costs. Integration for linguistic and cultural reasons will not be easy and there will inevitably be some xenophobic opposition from right-wing elements.

Syria immigrants, if they can settle into new homes and a different environment in Germany, may help to solve the imminent problems of a population where the net reproduction rate is one of the lowest in Europe and where the population is aging fast. But it would be wrong to think that the German response has been dictated by such considerations.

The response of other European countries has varied. France and Spain, despite their high levels of unemployment, have been generally supportive of a unified European response to the crisis. East European countries, forgetting their own traumatic experiences during the war and under communist domination, have been at best grudging and in the case of Hungary positively hostile to the flow of refugees coming up through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia.