Monday, December 04, 2006

Waking up to the integration challenge

note: the article deals with duouble citizenshep i Germany

Issue 14 - Towards a European Area of Freedom, Security and Justice?

Waking up to the integration challenge

Germany took a very important step towards the acceptance of a multicultural society by scrapping its archaic citizenship law in 2000. But Cem Özdemir, a German Green Member of the European Parliament, highlights what still has to be done by Germany so that immigration brings greater benefits to both the migrants and to German society. He identifies improved education opportunities for immigrants as being key to successful integration.
Cem Oezdemir
Date: 16-09-2005

"Germany is no immigration country" - this sentence was repeated like a mantra by members of several German governments until the end of the 1990s.

Since then, even the conservative Christian Democrats have acknowledged a very different reality, although they never miss an opportunity to emphasise that Germany is nevertheless not a "classical" immigration country. However, the official statistics speak for themselves. The demographics of a city such as Stuttgart are typical: with 600,000 inhabitants, every third person is a first or second-generation migrant. Therefore no one can reasonably claim that Germany is "no immigration country", whether "classical" or not.

In the light of this historical self-deception, it comes as no surprise that Germany's federal and state governments have failed to support the integration of migrants. This failure to act is reflected in several areas, including in the above-average unemployment rate among foreigners and in school education, where shortfalls continue to have a lasting effect. Furthermore, a legal entitlement to naturalisation was only introduced in 1993 (before that, it was at the discretion of local administration). Nor has it been recognised in time that a Muslim minority has emerged whose rights, duties and representation in the public sphere all pose questions. Finally, Germany has not even considered a legalisation programme for illegal migrants comparable to those in Spain, Greece and other European countries.

Against this background, the statement that "Germany is no immigration country" seems, ironically, to make sense, as several governments have perpetually validated it through misguided policies; particularly since the halt on recruitment in 1973, when the permanent settlement of migrants had already become apparent.

Complaints about "parallel societies" and the alleged relativism of multicultural societies led to a conservative-inspired discussion a few years ago about the need for a never-clearly defined "Leitkultur" (leading, core or hegemonic culture) as an addition to the constitution. This discussion raged again after the killing of Dutch film director Theo van Gogh in The Netherlands. However, others argue that the term "multicultural society" is not a goal but rather a realistic description of modern Germany, which does not in any way imply an idyll free of any conflicts. Either way, there are integration deficits which cannot be solved by politics alone, but are nevertheless among the most important challenges for the future of Germany.

With the change to a coalition government of Social Democrats and Greens in 1998, immigration and integration became important and controversial topics of discussion. Several events since then have not only formed a backdrop to, and influenced, public debate, but have also underscored the problems at the heart of the debate: the immigration law, the reform of the citizenship law, the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and the alarming results of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Study (PISA).

In 2000, the government introduced a so-called Green Card to recruit badly needed specialists for the booming IT-sector. Even though this cannot be compared with the famous American green card system (since specialists in Germany were not given permanent residence), the initiative led to a change in attitudes. The government realised that, given well-known demographic developments and the looming lack of labour, tools to regulate the immigration of highly-qualified workers would become necessary. This led to the start of a public discussion about immigration and integration. But the refusal to offer permanent residence to those IT specialists willing to come and work in the country once more confirmed the difficult relationship Germany has with immigration.

The debate finally resulted in the immigration law, which came into effect 1 January 2005. The most relevant social organisations, ranging from churches to labour unions, supported the bill. However, the innovative points system (based on old the Canadian model) fell victim to the negotiations between the government and Christian Democrats, who had the majority in the upper chamber.

In the course of these negotiations, the legislation undeniably lost substance. Yet it introduced obligatory integration courses. Through this measure, it has been rightly acknowledged that knowledge of the German language is an unconditional prerequisite for successful integration, both in terms of the labour market and for the sake of migrant children, whose educational chances increase when their parents are familiar with German. And finally, despite all the criticism of the legislation, one must bear in mind its symbolic value and the fact that it represents an important first step.

However, as with the Green Card, the immigration law also demonstrates clearly how difficult it is for Germany to emphasise the advantages of welcoming motivated and highly qualified immigrants – and to change the image of migrants in Germany. If only highly qualified Turkish immigrants had come into Germany, this would probably have dispelled several common stereotypes about Turks. The important of this symbolism cannot be overstated, considering the still strikingly pessimistic tone of integration discourse in Germany.

The citizenship law of 2000 was also a very important step towards greater integration. For the first time, it introduced an ius soli ("right of the soil") component, under which citizenship results from being born in a particular country. Given Germany's archaic citizenship tradition, with a legal entitlement to naturalisation only introduced in 1993, this marked a milestone. Since 2000, the native-born children of foreigners, under certain conditions, become German citizens by birth - about 40,000 of them annually.

Although this reform was an important step, the initial proposal went much further, as it included the possibility of double citizenship. However, under pressure from the opposition Christian Democrats, this provision was dropped. This has prevented many migrants from applying for naturalisation. It is true that in 2000, the total number of naturalisations reached a high at 186,000, but since then the figure has clearly been declining. The ban on double citizenship affects Turks in particular (given that Turkey is outside the EU) from taking a step which is so important for full political participation.

The ban on double citizenship is absurd, not least because about 40% of those who have been naturalised since 2000 have been allowed to keep their former citizenship for certain reasons. The argument that one can only be loyal to one state therefore seems to be groundless. It should also be noted that double citizenship was tolerated before 2000.

A more flexible attitude towards double citizenship would not only help to increase the number of naturalised migrants, but would also thereby encourage their passive and even active political participation. As potential voters, they could articulate their interests more effectively. It is thus not surprising that voters of Turkish origin are not seen as one group with common interests. They are more or less ignored by the two main parties (the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats), and they have failed to organise themselves to speak with one voice. Despite political, ethnic and religious differences among Turkish migrants, they also have common interests – in, for example, educational opportunities for their children.

We are, however, far from the American situation, where candidates explicitly and publicly fight for the votes of Hispanics and other migrant communities. Could anybody imagine a German Chancellor giving a weekly radio address in the language of the country's largest immigrant community (as has happened in the United States)?

The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 have brought the integration of Muslim migrants and their organisations to the forefront. If Muslims spoke with one voice, they could more easily confront the general suspicion they face from time to time. They have not yet, however, succeeded in establishing one or two representative and integrative umbrella associations. The German authorities need an acknowledged and accepted representative body of Muslims as a prerequisite for introducing Islamic religious education in schools - taught in the German language and under the supervision of the state - and for the education of Imams at German universities.

These measures are a necessary step to "naturalise" Islam in Germany. Under no circumstances should the majority fall into the trap of building up an artificial polarity between "being German" and "being Muslim". One can, of course, be German and Muslim at the same time, even though some have difficulties with this idea. Germany, as well as other European states, would be well advised to build a more relaxed relationship with moderate Muslims and their organisations, and help them find their place in mainstream society. And Muslims should do everything possible to identify and dissociate themselves from the black sheep within their communities.

Furthermore, the results of the PISA study underline that the educational situation of migrants is one of the most urgent problems for many European countries, in particular for Germany. The study found that in no other country was the relationship between the socioeconomic status of parents and the educational success of their children as strong as in Germany. This applies to all children from a blue-collar background, but especially to those of migrant families with a low educational background, as they lack the necessary resources to support their children adequately. Any integration efforts are doomed to fail when the educational situation of migrant children is not sustainable.

Integration cannot be determined by politics alone. However, the process can be supported by adequate measures. For far too long, we have ignored the fact that the first generation of guest workers who came from Turkey, Italy and other southern European countries simply could not provide the educational support needed to help their children move up the social ladder. The result is that we have far too many second-generation migrant children leaving school without a degree and too few migrants in top positions who could serve as positive role models.

If there is one main conclusion to draw from the German experience, it is that education is most important key to the successful economic, social and political integration of migrants. And as education is an area where politics definitely counts - whether in relation to the organisation of pre-school care, the school system, the qualification of teachers, and the acquisition of languages - Germany would be well-advised to realise the potential benefits of migration and integration, and therefore to do everything possible to foster more equality of opportunity and intergenerational mobility.

Cem Özdemir is a German Green Party Member of the European Parliament and serves on the Parliament’s Committee of Foreign Affairs.

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