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November 2002, Volume 9, Number 11

Germany: New Law, Integration

Germany's new immigration law is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2003. However, Germany's major opposition parties have asked the Constitutional Court to declare the law unconstitutional because it was approved with Brandenburg casting both yes and no votes in the upper house; a decision is expected by December 2002.

Germany's re-elected Social Democratic Party (SPD)-Green party coalition government signed a new agreement to guide the government over the next four years. The government's top priorities are to reduce unemployment by about 10 percent, and reduce government debt, by $10 billion. The red-green agreement includes a call to do more to integrate immigrants.

Integration. Germany placed 25th out of 32 countries in the latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, with the highest correlation between social and ethnic background and student achievement. Some analysts say that this reflects Germany's early separation of children by skill level. At age 11 or 12, the best students go to the Gymnasium, where they prepare for the Abitur, the high school exit exam that entitles them to go on to university. Others go to a less-challenging Realschule, which trains them for white-collar jobs, and others to a Hauptschule, where many learn trades in the widely-praised "work and learn" dual system.

Many experts say that Germany's extremely short school days pose particular problems for immigrant children; most school days end at 1pm, leaving little time for supplementary instruction. Immigrant children, who tend to go to Hauptschulen, are being squeezed out of apprenticeship slots by students from Realschulen. Frankfurt airport, Germany's biggest employer, in 2002 got 95 percent of its apprentices from Realschulen.

Some two million ethnic Germans moved from Eastern Europe and the ex-USSR to Germany since 1989. Most speak little or no German on arrival and most come with relatives who have no German roots. A large percentage end up on welfare, often living in ethnically segregated areas. The mayor of one town with large numbers of ethnic German "Russians" says "integration only takes place in language, school and work. If those are missing, how can you have integration?"

Several of the September 11 terrorists spent time in Hamburg. Hamburg's Muslim community is being pushed further from the mainstream in the wake of revelations that some of those not involved directly in terrorism provided financial and other support to the terrorists. Both Germans and Muslims worry that the deepening division will fuel radical elements and complicate the country's attempts at integration. Police estimate that Hamburg has 1,000 Islamic radicals, about 100 of whom are considered dangerous, in a Muslim population of about 150,000.

Cem Ozdemir, formerly a Green member of Parliament, favors integration. He says: "It is wrong when the administrative court in Berlin says that a girl from a Muslim family can be exempted from sex-education lessons. That is precisely the wrong signal. It is an achievement of Western civilization that girls have the same rights as boys to find out about their bodies. And if we start following the view that they are Muslims, so they have the right to stop their children from having to confront that, we can simply dissolve our common society. Everyone has to obey the rules irrespective of whether they are German or non-German."

Illegals. The number of illegal migrants apprehended attempting to enter Germany decreased in 2001: 28,560 were apprehended, down nine percent from 2000. A total of 7,141 people (11,739 in the year 2000) were stopped at the Czech border, and 8,210 (7,404) at the Austrian border. The number of people who illegally entered Germany by air more than doubled, from 437 to 894 in 2001.

There were 2,463 smuggling cases involving 9,194 people in 2001, compared to 2,740 cases and 11,320 people in 2000.

Economy. Germany has a new "super minister" for labor and the economy, and he pledged to reduce unemployment from 4 to 3.5 million over the next two years, largely by implementing the so-called Hartz Commission recommendations that, among other things, call for reform of the state-run labor offices and more stringent rules to make it difficult for the jobless to reject offers of employment. Hartz also called for rule changes that could increase the number of low-wage jobs and lead to more short-term jobs and more self-employment. Unions fear that the government will eventually try to weaken the current Kuendigungsschutz, which makes it difficult to fire long-term employees.

Jeffrey Fleishman, "Unsettling Return to Germany," Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2002. Isabelle de Pommereau, "Germany: Schools that divide," Christian Science Monitor, October 22, 2002. Jeffrey Fleishman, Divide Widens for Hamburg's Muslims," Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2002.