German Immigration Policy

"A Yawning Gap Has Been Filled"

The establishment of Council of Experts on Integration and Immigration by eight major German foundations has evoked a consistently positive resonance in the German states and federal government. An interview with the Council's chairman, Klaus J. Bade, on German immigration policy

Klaus J. Bade (photo: Osnabrück University)
Klaus J. Bade: "Meanwhile everyone has understood it is time that civil society concern itself with integration as a decisive question of the future"

​​Professor Bade, it has surely not escaped your notice that particularly the conservatives have loudly greeted the Council of Experts. From the Union parties, which while they were in the opposition didn't rest until the Immigration Council of the former Red-green government had been abolished, one now hears expressions of relief at the filling of this gap. And there has also been much praise for the selection of the members – for you too, although in the past you were often a red flag for them. Does that give you satisfaction?

Klaus J. Bade: At the end of 2004 there was a campaign to abolish the Immigration Council, whose annual report was apparently too critical for some, although it was highly esteemed among experts.

More important, however, was that in June 2004 the Chancellery sacrificed the point system for the criteria-based admittance of immigrants in its search for a way to reach a consensus on the controversial immigration law. That was also the end for the Immigration Council which was anchored in the law and whose mandate was increasingly narrowed from the general consultation in matters of immigration and integration policy to consultation on the point system.

photo: dpa
Integration course for migrants in Berlin: Integration has only recently appeared on the political agenda in German

​​ To this extent, the new Council of Experts in fact fills a yawning gap. It has been greeted not only by one side, but by all sides. Because meanwhile everyone has understood it is time that civil society concern itself with integration as a decisive question of the future – a point, by the way, that I already addressed in the 1980s. People laughed then, but nobody does today. That does give one a degree of satisfaction; one has learned to be modest.

Isn't it nevertheless a damning indictment that the ruling grand coalition of CDU/CSU and SPD, in spite of understanding the need, didn't put together its own consulting team on immigration policy much earlier?

Bade: And what would they have gained by it? A reissue of the Immigration Council of 2003 to 2005, only now with the blessing of the grand coalition. The Immigration Council was abolished because, among other reasons, one of our major proposals, the diagnosis of shortages in the labour market, "didn't fit into the political landscape", as Minister of the Interior Otto Schily said to me in a personal conversation shortly before we were retired.

You could say: The devil takes the foremost. Because the grand coalition, as part of the Alliance for Securing Qualified Employees, has now introduced exactly what was demonised in the Immigration Council of 2005: the diagnosis of a labour shortage, which is now discreetly called a "shortage analysis". Time will tell.

photo: dpa
"Integration in a society of immigration is always a matter of reciprocity": Iraqi student taking part in a German language class

​​How would you distinguish the Council of Experts from the former Immigration Council, apart from the more modest funding? What do we have to expect of it?

Bade: It was not initiated by the state or its administrative bodies, but originated in civil society in the form of major foundations with their own funding experience in the field. Within its area of activity it is basically at liberty to choose its fields of observation, questions and focal points. It is also no longer a mix of science, politics and interest groups. We do critical policy monitoring of the public. That was definitely not desired of the Immigration Council.

Our annual report is concerned with the observation of processes and evaluative impact assessment with a view to the development of integration and immigration. And finally we are establishing an integration barometer. That is an index which provides a continuous image of the climate of integration. It is there to measure not only the adaptive behaviour of immigrants, but also the integration performance of the majority society. Because integration in a society of immigration is always a matter of reciprocity.

In spring 2010 we'll present the annual report and integration barometer for 2009. Until then the word is mum, apart from comments and reports on current affairs.

What is the interest of private foundations in a Council of Experts for, of all things, questions of immigration and integration? And how will its dependence on private sponsors influence its work?

Bade: The foundations have experience in this field and are competing for 'best practice' in the promotion of integration with their national and international projects. For the first time, they have together undertaken a major task because this advocacy of the active promotion of integration and the structuring of immigration for a broad public is a common concern.

The private sponsors exercise no influence over what we say in our work. There are strict rules that ensure our independence – for example, in the legal form of a limited company that employs our staff and administers our funds.

How do you judge the present immigration situation in Germany, particularly in respect to the economic and financial crisis? Historically, times of crisis are notorious for germinating chauvinistic and xenophobic tendencies.

Bade: That can't be excluded; the first signs of this are already visible and have to be carefully observed. At least equally dangerous is the increasing aggression in everyday life by those who feel themselves to be social losers and now, in addition, victims of the crisis. It is therefore all the more important to find a solidary "we" that also includes those who have primarily been hit by these circumstances – and they are, as a rule, immigrants. They are in the same position as Germans abroad.

The interview was conducted by Roland Detsch.

© Goethe Institute 2009

Klaus Jürgen Bade, born 1944, was Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Osnabrück until 1997, where he founded the Institute for Immigration Research and Intercultural Studies. The internationally known social scientist and book author, who has been the recipient of many awards, created Federal Council for Immigration and in 2003/4 was Vice Chairman of the Council of Experts on Immigration and Integration of the German government.

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