CDU wants constitution to protect German
But Angela Merkel, who faces a close general election next year, opposed the resolution.
Berlin -- A proposal by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU to constitutionally protect the German language triggered controversy and unease in Germany Tuesday.
Meeting in Stuttgart, the annual conference of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) voted for a resolution calling for a new sentence be added to the constitution: "The language of the Federal Republic shall be German."
While party conference resolutions are not binding on party leaders, they do demonstrate sympathies.
Observers said the move was likely to be seen as a show of sympathy, not just for school teachers who complain that almost nobody speaks grammatically pure German nowadays, but also for rightists who fear "aliens" are taking over.
Merkel, who faces a close general election next year and has rebuffed calls for everything from "the family" to sport and high culture to be made constitutionally sacred, opposed the resolution.
"I don't find it good to put every possible thing into the constitution," she told RTL television news.
In the corridors at the conference, delegates denied the move marked a resurgence of nationalism.
Most said they just wanted Germans to become as proud of German as the French are of French and the Poles are of Polish.
"Language is the most precious jewel of culture. Why shouldn't we protect it in the constitution?" said Otto Wulff, who heads the CDU's national committee of retirees.
Maria Boehmer, Merkel's aide for liaison with ethnic minorities, also denied the vote was hostile to anyone.
An organization of secular Turks was not so sure. Kenan Kolat, chairman of the Turkish Community Association, said, "CDU politicians are pandering to latent fear of migrants.
"We interpret this idea as pressure to assimilate. It does not conform to democratic practice. That's how migrant communities will perceive it."
About 100 million people speak German. In Austria, the language is prescribed in the constitution as official.
German is generally considered to be no more difficult to learn than any other foreign language, though some smile at its preference for merging several words into long compounds. Germany has two very small ethnic minorities with their own official languages, Sorbian and Danish.
Kolat said he did not see what ill the CDU was trying to correct, since only German can be used in government.
Some in the Social Democratic Party SPD, which is in coalition with the CDU in the federal government, poured scorn on the CDU idea. SPD education spokesman Joerg Tauss called it "utter nonsense."
The debate about whether German is under threat was revived recently when the new co-leader of the Greens, Cem Ozdemir, called for optional Turkish-language courses in public schools.
Conservatives were outraged, and retorted that migrant children could not even speak German. Ozdemir is of Turkish extraction but was born and raised in Germany.
A group that believes well-spoken German is under threat, the German Language Society VDS, welcomed the resolution. Its secretary, Holger Klatte, said, "We hope German will be better taught in the schools."