'Language is the key to integration'
Spiegel Online's Anna Reimann interviews Armin Laschet, North Rhine-Westfalia's Minister for Generations, Family, Women and Integration.
Mr Laschet, do you believe that being compelled to speak German, as has been introduced at a school in Berlin, helps foreigners to integrate?
I believe that knowledge of the German language is the key to integration and to success both at school and in a future profession. The advantages of the Berlin school's rule are that it was developed by pupils, teachers and parents working together, and that the pupils themselves are very satisfied with it, because they know that speaking correct German increases their opportunities. Therefore I find this approach very good.
Would you be in favour of similar regulations being introduced in schools in North Rhine-Westphalia as well?
I don't think it's right to prescribe a rule like the Berlin one, but if schools in North Rhine-Westphalia agreed on a similar approach - perhaps especially in those schools where the proportion of immigrants is particularly high - then that would also increase the chances of children here. I would like it if schools in North Rhine-Westphalia followed this example from Berlin.
Do you have any sympathy for the allegations of Turkish organizations and Greens politicians that the regulation in Berlin is discriminatory?
No, I cannot understand that. The Greens were again somewhat too hasty in this case. If the politicians looked more closely at the rule, they would see that it is exactly what everyone wants, namely immigrants and Germans developing models for rules together. After all, the Berlin government and other factions have already expressed their approval.
In the Netherlands, the government's Immigration and Integration Minister plans a code whereby only Dutch will be spoken in public. Is that not unacceptable discrimination?
I have read about that and plan to examine the proposal more carefully. The most crucial thing is that these proposals should be developed together by immigrants and the majority society, so that they become part of a common Leitkultur [guiding cultural values]. The immigrants should themselves help to define what is right for them. If there were such a consensus in the Netherlands, then it would be an interesting solution. Naturally people should be free to speak different languages in the private sphere. However in small areas of public life this appeal to speak only Dutch could be right.
North Rhine-Westphalia was the first German federal state to establish a ministry for integration. What does your work consist of apart from being a "senator for multiculturalism"?
Our ministry has two distinctive features. It is the first "generations ministry", which studies the consequences of demographic change, and secondly it is the first German integration ministry. Previously integration was a subsection of the social ministry. But we believe that integration policies are more than just social policies. Integration policies play a role in practically all policy areas. Integration must be successful at the local authority level. We have proposed holding integration conferences in cities and municipalities, at which the social security office, the cultural activities office, the education authority and the town planning office would come together to consider questions such as: How can we prevent parallel societies from developing? How can we increase immigrants' chances at school and in their professional life?
Which concrete means does government have to stop or prevent the development of so-called "parallel societies"?
First of all, we need to follow town planning policies that prevent ghettos from developing and which ensure that Germans and immigrants live well together. Moreover language is the key to integration. When children start school and don't speak the language correctly, they inevitably receive worse grades. That continues throughout their schooling and in the end they aren't able to get a vocational training place. That's why we are in favour of introducing language tests starting from the age of four and thereby promoting language skills from kindergarten on. The funds for this have been doubled in the new fiscal year.
Do you think that a similar situation could arise in Germany as happened last autumn in the French banlieus?
Naturally we have to do everything to make sure that something like that does not happen here. Our ministry was founded before the riots in France began. The events in France show how important the topic of integration is.
Armin Laschet (44) is Minister for Generations, Family, Women and Integration in the federal state North Rhine-Westfalia. He is a lawyer and a trained journalist. From 1999 to 2005 he was a Member of the European Parliament. Since 1999 he has also been chairperson of the CDU's National Expert Committee for International Cooperation and Human Rights.
The interview was conducted by Anna Reimann.
Translated from the German by David Gordon Smith.
This interview is reproduced here with the kind permission of Spiegel Online, where it originally appeared.
27 January 2006
Copyright Spiegel Online 2006
Subject: German news, Armin Laschet, integration, immigrants in Germany