Germany stands firm on country's integration policy
German Interior Minister Schauble assures Ankara that his government sincerely intends to resolve integration problems faced by immigrant groups in Germany including the Turks
ANKARA – Turkish Daily News
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
A Turkish immigrant made the opening speech at a meeting late Monday in the headquarters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) where the guest of honor, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble, raised the issue of integration of nearly 2.5 million Turks in Germany.
The AKP's immigrant member, whose family moved to Switzerland in the 1960s, first started her speech in Turkish and continued in German, a deliberate move to highlight a milestone in the integration process: Learning the language that is laid down as a precondition to enjoying equal opportunity both in schools and the labor force.
Integration is not tantamount to assimilation, said Schauble, while emphasizing the need to harmonize with the parent country without denying one's roots. He said integration did not mean living alongside one another but living together in peace and participating in social life outside.
Berlin has been spending extra time and energy on the integration issue since Chancellor Angela Merkel came to power in 2005. The Interior Ministry has allocated 155 million euros for German language courses alone.
But a set of controversial rules introduced by Merkel's ruling Christian Democratic Union drew harsh criticism from immigrant groups in Germany particularly from Turks. Under the new legislation, spouses of non-EU nationals may only join their partners if they demonstrate a basic knowledge of the German language. The law makes German courses mandatory, with fines levied against those who refuse to take them.
Schauble's two-day meetings with Turkish officials and the speech he delivered at the AKP headquarters revealed that Germany would not back off from the much-criticized immigration law. The visiting minister, very much aware of Ankara's concerns and complaints, tried to convince the Turkish side that his government sincerely intended to resolve the integration problem and that the implementation of the law remained to be seen.
This law proves we are not generating empty talk but action, said Schauble.
A flurry of questions were flung at the German minister with one of the audience members saying that Berlin's stance was as if the Sept. 11 attacks occurred not in the United States but in Germany, alluding to hostile practices in some German states that target Muslim immigrants.
Koch's racist campaign blasted
Last month, the prime minister of the German state of Hesse, Roland Koch from Merkel's CDU, launched an emotionally explosive election campaign, demanding tougher actions against immigrants. But playing the immigrant card did not bring success to the CDU, which was defeated by the Social Democrats.
Schauble said he personally did not take the election rhetoric seriously and underlined that Hesse was one of the leading German states where integration efforts first kicked off. He hinted that the CDU failure in this state would not trigger a change in the party's policies of handling the immigrants' problems in dialogue with the regional states.
Annual Islamic conferences constitute another part of Germany's national integration plan aimed at establishing communication with all Muslim communities. One participant of the conference harshly criticized this policy and argued that Turkey was not an Islamic republic but Schauble said his government must keep in contact with all the Muslim groups, regardless of their sects in Islam.
3.5 million Muslims live in Germany and we cannot distinguish between religious communities in Islam, he added.
The meeting that lasted for more than an hour provided some sort of an interaction between AKP officials including lawmakers and the German minister, who had the chance to see the reactions to certain policies of his government toward immigrants.
Schauble stood firm on the urgency of the integration issue and said Germany's success would be in Turkey's interest because the immigrants abroad represented the image of Turkey.