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Germany: Government Reluctant To Integrate Foreign Families

  • Roland Eggleston

Munich, 7 May1997 (RFE/RL) -- One of the ways in which Germany differs from other European countries is its reluctance to integrate the millions of foreign families who have entered the country since the 1960's.

The integration of foreign families who have established roots in the host country after many years of residence is common in many parts of Europe. But German policy still follows a 1913 law that nationality can only be inherited from German ancestry -- the so-called bloodline. In practice, this means that the millions of ethnic Germans from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe who have emigrated here in recent years are entitled to automatic citizenship even if they speak little German.

But Turks and others who were born in Germany of foreign parents, went to German schools, work for German companies and pay German taxes face enormous difficulties in obtaining German citizenship.

Recent statistics show that such people now make up nine percent of Germany's population (about 7.2 million people). About two million of them are Turks, who began coming to Germany in the 1960's to ease the labor shortage and do the sort of jobs which Germans did not want to do -- such as street cleaning, garbage removal and other low-level jobs. Some went home after a few years but thousands remained to send their children to local schools and universities so that they became Germans in practically everything except their nationality.

Some of these children have reached senior positions in the law, engineering and other professions but relatively few have obtained a German passport. There is only one Turkish-German in the Federal parliament -- Cem Ozdemir, a 30-year-old representative of the Greens party who was born in a village in the Black Forest.

Ethnic Turks are the most numerous of the "foreign" population of Germany but Greeks, and Italians also have strong colonies here. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has also been an influx of Russians, Poles and other eastern Europeans even though they are not ethnic-Germans.

Some politicians and psychologists fear that refusing the German-born children of these people the right to German citizenship if they want it, could lead to serious ethnic tensions. In lengthy arguments in the serious German media, they argue that many young Turkish-Germans feel rejected by a society into which they born but which denies them full membership. There is a fear that some could turn to nationalist movements or various forms of religious fundamentalism which could cause problems in a country which traditionally fears divisive sects.

German chancellor Helmut Kohl leads the conservative, right wing elements in parliament who are reluctant to make it easier for ethnic Turks and others born in Germany to obtain German citizenship. Kohl likes to declare that Germany will not become an immigration nation, like the United States.

Other conservatives take a much harder line. Some of the strongest opponents of a genuine integration are to be found in the southern German province of Bavaria, a traditionally-conservative region. Some Bavarian politicians mix the two issues of integration of German-born foreigners and the soaring rate of unemployment which has now reached 4.6 million, the highest level since the Great Depression of the 1930's. One of the spokesmen for these politicians is Michael Glos, who is parliamentary chief of the governing conservative party in Bavaria. He says: "it would be foolish, both politically and economically, to offer the benefits of German citizenship to millions of foreigners in the present economic situation." He says it is unacceptable that about a million work permits are issued to foreigners each year while so many Germans are out of work.

Critics say Glos is mixing two issues. They argue there is a difference between giving jobs to foreigners who were born in Germany and those who come briefly to take jobs at lower wages than Germans will accept, many of these work in the building industry.

But there is a growing group of younger parliamentarians who believe the time has come to at least modify the German system. They want it made easier for these "ethnic foreigners", as some people call them, to become German citizens with full rights and responsibilities.

One of the leaders in this movement is the federal politician Mrs. Cornelia Schmalz-Jacobsen, who is the commissioner for foreigners. In a recent interview she argued that Germany had already become a society of varied races and cultures.

"We are now in the third generation of families who came here to work in the 1960's," she said. She ridiculed the common practice of referring to them as "guest workers" or the cumbersome "foreign fellow citizens." In Mrs. Schmalz-Jacobsen's view, "these people are German and should be recognized as such."

Some younger members of the governing Christian Democrats share her views. A Christian Democrat parliamentarian, Horst Eylmann, said recently: "It has to be in our interests not to leave these people out in the cold but allow them to take on responsibilities in Germany. If they are born here, go to school here, study here and train for a job here they should be allowed to become Germans if they wish to do so."

Political analysts say pressure is growing in the German parliament to make it easier for German-born foreigners to obtain citizenship. Some steps have already been taken. Until 1993 foreigners had to wait up to 15 years before they could apply for citizenship. Now an applicant needs only eight years residency, reasonable fluency in German and proof that he can support himself.

But critics say this leaves a false impression. The bureaucratic hurdles remain high and in the conservative provinces, such as Bavaria, officials can still raise many obstacles.

However almost every week sees new reports of pressure on the Parliament to improve the situation. One remaining hurdle is the demand by Turkish nationalists that ethnic Turks who take German citizenship should be allowed to keep their Turkish citizenship. But such "dual citizenship" is alien to Germany and is unlikely to be approved. Analysts argue that ethnic Turks must also be ready to make compromises if they want to become German citizens.