The debate on immigration and multi-culturalism in Germany rages on. For some, Angela Merkel is belatedly stating the obvious; for others she is crudely pandering to right-wing populism, lumping together four million Turks, Arabs and others as problem Muslims.
The Chancellor told young Christian Democrats on Saturday that immigrants should do more to integrate and adopt German culture and values – for instance by learning German.
“We are a country which at the beginning of the 1960s actually brought guest workers to Germany,” she said. “Now they live with us and we kidded ourselves for a while, saying that they won’t stay and that they will have disappeared again one day. That’s not the reality. This multi-cultural (‘multi-kulti’) approach — saying that we simply live side-by-side and are happy with each other — this approach has failed, utterly failed.”
Merkel’s admission echoes comments made last week by Horst Seehofer, the head of the CDU’s conservative sister party in Bavaria – Germany’s richest region where he is prime minister. He says there is no room for more people from what he calls “alien cultures”.
“We, as the Christian Party, argue for the predominant culture to be German – and against multiculturalism,” he proclaimed. “Multi-kulti” is dead.”
Conservatives say such issues need to be tackled head on to prevent extremism. There is evidence to support claims that attitudes towards immigrants are hardening.
A study by one think-tank close to the opposition Social Democrats found that 58% of people believed Muslims’ rights to practice their religion in Germany should be considerably limited.
The government has made moves to demand more from immigrants, banning forced marriages and trying to encourage Muslim integration by financing the training of imams in three German universities.
“We wish to train the largest number possible of imams in Germany, because we’re convinced that imams are the bridge-builders between the mosque faithful and the town in which the mosque is situated,” said Education Minister Annette Schavan.
The minister has also announced plans to recognise legally foreign diplomas. That would allow 300,000 qualifed immigrants to be employed, something the German Chamber of Commerce says the economy urgently needs.
For some, Islam has become the scapegoat for deeper problems, rooted in German reunification and amplified by the economic crisis.
Thilo Sarrazin was ousted from the Bundesbank for his outspoken criticisms of Muslim immigrants. But his book has been highly popular and polls suggest most Germans broadly agree with him.