German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently weighed in on the country's increasingly contentious debate about immigration, declaring that the nation's attempts to create a multicultural society have "utterly failed."
In the speech to party members and supporters over the weekend, Merkel also said new arrivals need to do more to integrate into German society.
Her comments reflect a growing and increasingly bitter anti-immigration mood -- especially for Muslims -- in Germany and across much of Europe.
Fanning Flames Of Immigration Debate
Merkel had talked tough about integration before. But until her speech Saturday to young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union party, she had always tempered her remarks with calls for tolerance. Merkel seemed to take a strong tack to the right, issuing a broadside devoid of the usual niceties.
In a reference to the mostly Turkish laborers known as "guest workers" who flooded into West Germany in the 1960s, Merkel said that while Islam is a part of Germany now, attempts to create a multicultural society have not worked. "We kidded ourselves awhile; we said, 'They won't stay, sometime they'll be gone.' But this isn't reality. And of course the approach to build a multicultural society -- to happily live side by side with each other -- this approach has failed, utterly failed," she said.
Merkel reiterated that immigrants need to learn to speak German in order to do better in school and integrate.
Her speech may further inflame an already heated debate in Germany. A recent anti-immigration polemic titled Germany Does Away with Itself has become a best-seller. The author, German Central Bank member Thilo Sarrazin, was forced to step down after publication of his book, which argues that Muslim immigrants are sponging off welfare and undermining Germany's culture, economy and way of life.
And Merkel's speech comes after the head of Bavaria's state government, Horst Seehofer of Merkel's sister party the Christian Social Union, said the party stands "for the majority German culture and against a multicultural society." Seehofer also called for an end to new immigration from Turkey and Arab countries -- an idea denounced by opposition politicians as well as leading Jewish and Muslim groups.
Manuela Schwesig, a vice president with the opposition Social Democrats, called Merkel's speech a shameless embrace of "a Seehofer-style black-and-white debate about immigration, instead of really addressing the problems." She added that the country needs more highly skilled immigrants -- a point made by Merkel's own labor minister, Ursula von der Leyen.
"We need qualified workers from abroad, my friends," von der Leyen told the CDU youth gathering this weekend. "Not everyone can come, that is clear. But we do not have enough qualified immigration."
Business Needs More Open Borders, Skilled Workers
The irony in this whole debate is that Europe's largest exporter -- with its surging economy and an aging population -- desperately needs more skilled workers. The solution seems like a no-brainer: do more to utilize immigrants that are here and encourage others to come.
But that's not happening, says Stephan Pfisterer, the head of human resources at BITKOM, an association of more than 1,300 German IT, new media and telecommunications companies. "Politics is still very much dominated by the ideology that Germany is a non-immigrant country, unlike the U.S. or Canada, for example. We have to open up our borders, enter into a much more active, international recruiting process, which hasn't been done yet," he says.
Germany still has some of the toughest immigration and citizenship laws in the European Union. Those regulations are hurting its fast-moving high-tech businesses. A survey this summer of more than 1,600 firms by the industry and trade chamber DIHK showed that 70 percent of German companies say they're having trouble filling vacancies.
Before coming to Germany, skilled foreign workers from non-EU states have to prove that they make more than 66,000 euros a year in order to get a specialized work permit. Only a tiny number met that requirement in 2009. In addition, that permit is limited to just five years of employment.
Siemens, one of Germany's largest companies, currently has some 3,000 job openings, most of them for engineers. Siemens' Mark Langdorf says the immigration restrictions are onerous, outdated and risk hurting business. "From a business standpoint, it would be rather compelling when the political framework for the whole immigration scheme would change to give a better framework for talented people to come to Germany," Langdorf says.
For immigrants already in Germany, getting citizenship is just as hard; they must have lived in the country for eight years, prove command of the language, pass a test and prove full, self-sustaining employment before they can become naturalized citizens.
Until January 2000, German citizenship was based solely on "blood rights," meaning only children of German citizens were granted citizenship. Since 2000, it's become a little easier. But there are still big hurdles. And children of immigrants are not automatically German citizens. One of the parents has to have lived here for three years prior to the birth, and then citizenship is given only provisionally.
Acceptance, Attitude Change Required
Largely lost in the debate is the fact that immigrants are not invading: Last year, nearly 40,000 Turkish immigrants left Germany and returned home, including some highly skilled workers -- that's 10,000 more than arrived in 2009.
Ozcan Mutlu, a Turkish-born Green Party lawmaker for Berlin's state government, says the debate about both immigration and the integration of the more than 4 million Muslims already in Germany has largely sidestepped what he sees as the key issues including racism and the need for school reform. He believes Germany needs to do more to level the educational playing field for children of immigrants. He calls the public school system grossly outdated, a system that in most cities still funnels kids at a relatively early age into either an academic or vocational track.
"The chances for a kid coming from a migration household to go to the university are four times less than for a German kid coming out of an academic household. Are kids with migration backgrounds dumber? No. But they are discriminated against because the teacher really decides which school to follow up,” Mutlu says.
Many Germans still refer to those of Turkish descent -- even if they're third-generation German citizens -- as Die Turken, the Turks. Beyond changes in Germany's education and immigration policies, Mutlu says, is the need for a change in mentality.
"I can feel German; I can dream German 24 hours. But as long as the majority does not accept me as one of them, we can't change anything," Mutlu says. "I'm a German citizen for two decades already. I took up responsibility for the German society. I'm serving the German people as a parliamentarian. But I’m still 'the Turkish guy.' "