Germany to act on immigrant integration after Merkel salvo
The German government said Monday it would adopt new plans to better integrate immigrants, two days after Chancellor Angela Merkel declared multiculturalism a total failure.
"For a while multiculturalism in Germany was about immigrants living as they wished and not putting integration too much in the forefront ... This is what the chancellor wanted to stress," spokesman Steffen Seibert said.
"In everybody's interest, this society has to act, and the government will act," he told a regular government briefing.
Next Wednesday, Merkel's centre-right cabinet would adopt "concrete" new regulations governing immigration policy and residency permits, addressing German language courses and combating forced marriages, he said.
He added that the government aimed in December to sign off on a bill that would see more foreign diplomas formally recognised, something which would help employers in Europe's biggest economy find badly needed qualified workers.
"This country is extremely glad to have hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people with foreign roots who are well integrated," Seibert said.
"But we also recognise, and perhaps we are stressing it more now than in years gone by, that with some foreigners integration is not happening as it should. In some cases it is quite openly being rejected.
Merkel's comments on Saturday came after weeks of debate sparked by central banker Thilo Sarrazin saying that Germany's 16 million people with an immigration background were making the country "more stupid."
"We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don't accept them don't have a place here," the chancellor, 56, whose faces a tough series of state elections next year, told a gathering of young members of her party.
Merkel spokesman stressed however with President Christian Wulff's comments earlier this month that Islam was now "part of Germany," remarks that drew criticism from within Merkel and Wulff's party.
A week later Horst Seehofer, premier of Bavaria and head of the sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats, told a magazine did not need any more Turkish or Arab immigrants because they "find it harder" to integrate.
The popularity of a book by Sarrazin and a recent study showing strong anti-foreigner sentiment have raised fears about a right-wing populist attracting significant support, although no such figure has yet emerged.
Studies show that there is indeed work to do, with immigrants more likely to poor and their children performing badly at school and in the labour market.
There are also concerns that a lack of integration of Germany's four million Muslims was helping create homegrown Islamic extremists.
Education Minister Annette Schavan told the Financial Times Deutschland daily on Monday that the plans for recognising more foreign qualifications would allow for the recruitment of 300,000 more qualified immigrants.
"Qualifications from abroad should be evaluated with the same criteria as those obtained in Germany," she said.
With an ageing population, German employers have long complained about a lack of qualified workers costing the economy billions of euros (dollars) in lost output every year.
Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle, who is keen on adopting a points system for immigrants like Canada or Australia, announced plans on Monday for a new government website helping employers better understand foreign qualifications.
"We should have a welcoming culture," the minister said.
© 2010 AFP