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April 2012 Volume 19 Number 2
France, Germany, Benelux
France. Three major candidates for president sought votes before the April 22, 2012 first round of elections. Socialist Fran‡ois Hollande led incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in most polls, but Sarkozy forged into the lead in March 2012 after declaring that France had "too many foreigners."<< back
Sarkozy promised that if he was re-elected, admissions of immigrants would be reduced from about 180,000 a year to 100,000 a year. Sarkozy said he favors restricting access to some welfare benefits to foreigners who worked at least five years in France. Sarkozy also threatened to have France exit the 25-nation Schengen zone (EU-27 minus Britain and Ireland) unless border controls were tightened to reduce illegal migration.
Most critics said that Sarkozy was playing the anti-migrant card to win voters from Le Pen for a second five-year term. Le Pen, whose father lost to Jacques Chirac in 2002, advocates less immigration, a return of the franc and protection for French industries. During the campaign, she caused a stir by arguing that French residents were being sold halal meat that was not labeled as halal.
After a radical Islamist killed seven soldiers and parents and children at a Jewish school in Toulouse in March 2012, the leading presidential candidates discussed "failed" and "flawed" immigrant integration in France. Many French cities have suburban banlieues, high-rise apartments that include a few elderly French residents and many minority immigrants. Some Muslims blame Sarkozy for fueling Islamic fundamentalism, citing a 2010 law that banned the full veil or niqab that was followed by a debate over the meaning of "national identity."
Germany. Germany is trying to attract more skilled foreigners and to integrate low-skilled foreigners and their children. Low-skilled migrants were recruited in the 1960s, but the mantra "Germany is not a country of immigration" slowed the development of federal integration policies until enactment of the 2005 Migration Law that included subsidized language and integration courses aimed at promoting the integration of foreigners.
Germany is a social welfare state, which means that the government feels obliged to deal with social risks, from economic security to inclusion. Low-skilled migrants and their descendants presented new challenges for the social welfare state. Germany dealt with these challenges by adding national, provincial and city-neighborhood programs.
Most of the integration policies that directly affect migrants and their children are at the provincial and city levels, since provinces are responsible for both education and naturalization. Federal policy requires and subsidizes language and culture courses for those who do not know German and supports counseling and education services that aims to help migrants get jobs. Provincial policies help young children to learn German sooner and youth to make the transition from school to work.
Integration occurs in city neighborhoods. In many German neighborhoods, half or more of elementary school children have migrant backgrounds, meaning that one or both parents were immigrants. Many cities have developed early childhood education programs to ensure that children know German when they start school, but the programs are sometimes neither well known nor coordinated, prompting some cities to appoint "education czars" to coordinate and assess integration programs.
Germany wants to attract more highly skilled foreigners. In March 2012, the government announced that the current minimum salary for non-EU skilled foreigners, E66,000 a year, would be reduced to E44,800 a year, and to E34,900 in labor-short sectors such as engineering. One proposal under consideration would allow non-EU nationals to spend six months in Germany looking for a German employer to hire them.
Germany's unemployment rate was 6.7 percent in March 2012, meaning that about three million workers were jobless.
Netherlands. The Freedom Party (PVV) established a web site in February 2012 to allow residents to report problems with Middle Eastern and European migrants, including "noise, drunkenness or squalor." The Dutch Parliament in March 2012 voted 94-56 to condemn the PVV web site; the PVV has 23 members in the 150-seat lower house.