Merkel Stokes Immigration Debate in Germany     Print Email

(October 18) Diving into Germany’s growing anti-immigration debate this week, Chancellor Angela Merkel branded her country’s “multiculturalism” a “total failure”. Speaking at a meeting of youth members of the Christian Democratic Union in Potsdam, Merkel said “At the beginning of the 60s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country. We kidded ourselves for a while - we said, ‘They won’t stay and sometime they will be gone.’  But this isn’t reality. And of course, the multicultural approach and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other... has failed, utterly failed."

While few argue over the difficulties immigrants, particularly from Arab and Islamic countries, have had assimilating, the Chancellor’s stark candor follows a recent, controversial speech by the governor of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, of the Christian Social Union, in which he said that Germany should end immigration from Turkey and Arab countries because citizens of these lands do not “integrate” into German society as well as other immigrant groups. Chancellor Merkel’s government quickly condemned the remarks, and she admonished that “we should not be a country either which gives the impression to the outside world that those who speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here.”

Nevertheless, analysts have widely interpreted the chancellor's failure of multiculturalism speech as a shift rightwards, targeted at trying to capitalize on growing anti-immigrant sentiment as her party continues to decline in the polls. She has been criticized from within the party recently for losing touch with conservatives and not being responsive to their agenda. Mrs. Merkel has openly courted disgruntled workers who have lost their jobs by saying that the education of unemployed Germans should take precedence over the hiring of foreigners.  Although unemployment in Germany is under seven per cent, (according to eurostat figures), one of the lowest in Europe, the number of actual job losses is partially masked by the German practice of putting workers on part-time rather than firing them -- and only bringing them to full pay when the economy recovers and more work hours are needed.

With an estimated 3.5 million first and second generation Turks now residing in Germany, jobs are not the only concerns. While their parents largely identified with their country of origin, a growing number of second generation immigrants are assuming full German citizenship and with it, engagement in the political process. A clear majority favor the Social Democratic Party, which is seen as more tolerant on the issue of immigration.

Grounding the immigration debate is a growing concern within the German public about losing national identity.  According to a recent survey by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 58.4% percent want to restrict the practice of Islam within Germany, and 30% opined that they felt “overrun” by foreigners.

As recent events in France, Italy and the Netherlands indicate, Germany is hardly alone (see European Institute blog).


By Cristina Ungureanu