20th Jan 2020

Merkel stokes anti-immigrant discourse in Germany

  • Chancellor Merkel has said multiculturalism has failed (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared that attempts to build a multicultural society in her country have "utterly failed" in comments widely seen as a shift to the right as her party languishes in the polls, while a wider anti-immigrant discourse grips Germany.

"At the beginning of the 60s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country," Ms Merkel told a meeting of youth members of her Christian Democratic Union party on Saturday (16 October) in Potsdam.

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"We kidded ourselves a while, we said: 'They won't stay, 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."

She openly courted disgruntled workers that have lost their jobs by saying that the education of native German unemployed people should take precedence over the hiring of foreigners.

The speech comes in the wake of a speech by the governor of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, of the Christian Social Union, the more conservative sister party of the CDU, in which he said Germany should end immigration from Turkey and Arab countries because citizens of these lands allegedly do not "integrate" into German society as well as others.

"It's clear that immigrants from other cultures such as Turkey and Arabic countries have more difficulties. From that I draw the conclusion that we do not need additional immigration from other cultures," he told Focus magazine last Monday.

Although the comments were immediately condemned as "shocking" by Ms Merkel's integration commissioner, Maria Bohmer, the chancellor has now elaborated on similar themes, although she was careful to stress that immigrants were still welcome.

"We should not be a country either which gives the impression to the outside world that those who do not speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here," Ms Merkel said.

According to sociologists, the estimated 3.5 million Turks in the country have until recently tended to look toward their country of origin in terms of politics and cultural touchstones rather than toward Germany as they viewed their position as ‘guest workers' as temporary. Until 2000, German law, based on jus sanguinis, a blood connection, did not entitle children born to immigrants in the country to German citizenship.

In latter years, increasing numbers of second-generation Turks have taken up German passports and are getting involved in the political process, although a clear majority favour the SPD, seen as more tolerant on the question of immigration, while German-born second generation Turk Cem Ozdemir is leader of the German Green Party.

Analysts have widely interpreted the chancellor's speech as a shift rightwards, trying to capitalise on growing anti-immigrant sentiment as her party continues to decline in the polls.

In a Forsa poll in late September, support for the CDU had falled to 29 percent while the Greens and Social Democrats were on 24 percent each, putting the centre-left on 48 percent - 14 points up on the chancellor's coalition with the Free Democrats on 34 percent.

Meanwhile, according to a survey by the SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 58.4 percent of Germans said they wanted to restrict the practice of Islam in their country, while 30 percent felt that Germany was "overrrun" by foreigners.

In August, Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin claimed in a book that German Muslim immigrants were not integrating, that they were less intelligent and that they use more social services than other citizens.

Mr Sarrazin, a member of Germany's centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) also said that with their high birth rate, they threatened to overwhelm the "native" German population within a few generations.

According to the Berliner Morgenposten, some 18 percent of Germans would vote for his party if he started one.

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