By Samson Yuchi Mai
In October of 2010, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared Germany’s multicultural project a failure. The comment came at a time during which there was rising anti-immigration sentiment in Germany according to BBC News—so are her comments accurate?
She is correct to point out that the vast majority of immigrants and their descendents have had a difficult time living and integrating into German society. The main reason this project failed is because integration has never been an intentional policy objective. Germany needs immigration to counteract its declining population growth but likewise needs to address the issues immigrants and their descendants face living in Germany.
The majority of immigrants in Germany are comprised of Gastarbieter (guest workers). The objective of the guest worker policy was to establish a program that would alleviate the temporary shortage of workers, specifically male workers, in the aftermath of World War II. To sustain the high rate of GDP growth in the postwar years, immigrant workers filled the labor shortage, especially in manual labor and risky jobs that native Germans were reluctant to take. Most of the guest workers were from Mediterranean countries, particularly from Turkey. When the global oil crisis hit in 1973, Willy Brandt ended the guest worker program. By that time, 14 million guest workers came to Germany. 11 million of these guest workers went back to their home countries but three million stayed. Now, 15.4 million people in Germany, or roughly 20 percent of the population, have their roots in other countries according to Deutsche Welle.
With these large numbers, one would expect the German government to enact more effective immigration and naturalization policies. These policies have not achieved the broader goal of establishing greater welfare for the entire German population. Despite the fact that the employment gap between natives and foreigners and foreign descendants is smaller in Germany than in other countries, there is still a significant gap. For example in Bremen, 16.4 percent of migrants are unemployed compared with 7.5 percent of the native population in the city.
Furthermore, there is a disconnect between the immigrant community and the German identity. Halime Cengiz is a descendant of a Turkish guest worker who was interviewed in The Economist. She does not consider herself a German despite the fact she has a German passport. Although the government has made policy changes to address these problems, like requiring immigrants to take integration courses and 600 hours of German language instruction, there are those who are like Cengiz who still do not consider themselves German.
There is also a political and social backlash at the number of immigrants and their descendants. According to Foreign Policy, declining GDP growth, persistent unemployment, growing fears of Islam especially after September 11 and the London bombings as well as fiscal pressures on the social welfare state, there is growing anti-migrant sentiment on the right and a growing perception of migrants as a permanent dependent class. This comes at a time when Germany needs much more immigration to combat a declining population and workforce to prop up the welfare state and encourage economic growth. With parties like the CSU moving more toward the right on this issue, it is difficult to see a political solution to this societal problem. Germans want immigrants to be more like them: Christian, educated, and economically productive. Thus, the political players must find a way to push legislation forward that would increase immigration, align migrants to the German culture and appeal to the overall population.
1. “Merkel says German multicultural society has failed.” BBC News. 17 October 2010. Web: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11559451.
2. Simon Green, Daniel Hough and Alister Miskimmon, The Politics of the New Germany 2nd Edition, London: Routledge (2011)
Photo by Dirk Vorderstrasse