Merkel defends 'multiculturalism has failed' comments

3rd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Chancellor Angela Merkel defended Wednesday recent comments that multiculturalism had failed, saying that diversity had made Germany stronger but that immigrants must be better integrated.

"What I mean to say is that for years, for decades, the approach was that integration was not something that needed to be addressed, that people would live side-by-side and that it would sort itself out by itself," Merkel said.

"This turned out to be false. What in fact is needed is a political effort and an effort by society as a whole to make integration happen ... Diversity in society is something that has always made our country stronger."

Speaking after hosting a one-day "integration summit", Merkel said that immigrants and their descendants had to speak German in order to play a role in society and live up to German "values."

"This is something that I see as being the opposite of what I meant by multiculturalism," the conservative Merkel, 56, told reporters.

Merkel had made waves on October 16 when she said that efforts until now towards multiculturalism in Germany have "failed, totally."

This followed weeks of anguished debate sparked by the huge popularity of a book by a central banker saying that immigrants, in particular Muslims, were making Germany "more stupid."

Wednesday's summit on better integrating Germany's 16 million people with an "immigration background" is the fourth such event since 2006, but this one has attracted more attention as a result of Sarrazin's remarks.

It involved around 120 people including government ministers, members of immigrant organisations as well as representatives from the economy, science, media, sport, trade unions and religious communities.

Merkel said before the gathering that Germany had much work to do, with children from immigrant families twice as likely to not complete their schooling than other children.

Her main focus is on improving German language skills, something she sees as key to improving immigrants' prospects in the labour market.

The government says it will spend around 400 million euros (560 million dollars) by 2014 on improving the German language skills of young children of immigrants so that they can perform better once they go to school.

It is also seeking to help immigrants get their foreign qualifications recognised in Germany, and to boost the number of immigrants and their descendants working for the civil service and in law enforcement.

Merkel's cabinet last week agreed new draft laws against forced marriages and tough measures against immigrants who fail to integrate into society, for example penalties for failing to attend "integration courses."

"Hundreds of thousands of people from all around the world are well integrated here. Today's integration summit should give immigrants the courage to follow suit," Merkel told the Passauer Neue Presse local daily.

© 2010 AFP

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