The World From Berlin Immigration Law 'Hits Turks Below the Belt'

Four groups representing Germany's Turkish population have refused to take part in Angela Merkel's integration summit being held Thursday. German commentators are divided over whether the groups have a point or whether they are just proving that Turks in Germany don't want to integrate.

Four major organizations representing the Turkish community in Germany have boycotted Merkel's integration summit.

Four major organizations representing the Turkish community in Germany have boycotted Merkel's integration summit.

The boycott by four major organizations representing the Turkish community in Germany of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's much-vaunted integration summit threatened to overshadow the event as it took shape on Thursday.

Their main bone of contention is a new immigration law which contains measures they consider discriminatory -- for example, a stipulation that future spouses can only come to Germany if they can prove knowledge of German, a rule that does not apply to Americans, Japanese or European Union citizens and seems to have been created with Turks in mind. "That is discrimination," said Kenan Kolat, chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD) organization.

He announced Wednesday that his group would not be taking part in the summit. "We have determined that it makes no sense to participate because the government has not understood the seriousness of our concerns and doesn't appear to be willing to seriously discuss possible changes to the immigration law," Kolat told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Three other major Turkish organizations also said they were boycotting the summit -- which will still go ahead as planned.

The refusal to participate was criticized in some quarters. "You don't solve problems by staying away, but rather by speaking to each other," commented Maria Böhmer, Merkel's commissioner for integration. Observers suggested that the federations had shot themselves in the foot by refusing to participate, and that they were lending weight to the view that immigrants do not want to integrate.

Commentators in Germany's newspapers Thursday are divided over how to interpret the federations' move and how the integration debate should continue.

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The refusal of four Turkish federations to participate in the chancellor's second integration summit is like a thunderstorm which clears the air. Now it is obvious that the various discussion partners have no common conception of what integration is actually supposed to mean. For foreigners to question a law which has just been passed -- for good reasons -- and to make changing it a pre-condition for further talks ... shows the exact opposite of willingness to integrate. Integrating into Germany's political system also means respecting the will of the democratic majority as shown in elections and parliament. ... Some foreigners come here in order to maintain a self-centered and self-sufficient way of life under more generous circumstances than in their homeland -- in other words, to live with their own kind in ghettos and parallel societies. ... "

"The government must be honest to itself and to its citizens and admit that there are foreigners who are willing to integrate and there are foreigners who do not want to integrate. The government can grant the first group a measure of trust as well as considerable sums of money for integration courses and other assistance. To the others however, in particular to those who substantiate their refusal to integrate on an organizational basis, the government must send a clear signal. Because Germany is not a country of immigration, but a country of integration."

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Now it has been proven just how badly the integration of the Turks in Germany works: Some of their federations have failed to understand the exemplary German political system and are not taking part in the Chancellor's integration summit -- it's scandalous! In truth, however, the refusal of the four organizations to participate in the summit is not worth getting excited about. It is the right of the federations to make such a gesture, even if their reaction to the change in the immigration law is very disproportional. The summit will not fail as a result. ..."

"The integration debate now beginning revolves around the central questions: Do immigrants really want integration, or do they actually just want mainly to preserve and secure their old identity? Do Germans really want integration, or do they want immigrants to assimilate? These questions are being posed ever more openly and relentlessly. In that respect, the organizations' refusal to take part in the summit is a useful contribution to openness in the debate."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Fiancés of immigrants have to prove they know German if they want to enter the country -- that is the rule under the new immigration law. The rule is completely acceptable -- it is an obligation which will help people to land on their feet in Germany. What is not acceptable, however, is that the rule is to apply to Turks, but not to Americans or Japanese. In this respect, the Turkish federations have got a point when they accuse the government of discrimination. The fact that four of them have called off their participation in the integration summit may be an expression of honest indignation. It is not, however, very intelligent politically. ... Through their refusal to participate, the Turkish federations have made themselves vulnerable to attack. It is now easier to paint all Turks as not wanting to integrate. And those Turks who actually have no desire to learn the German language and culture can also feel justified in their attitude. Diplomacy can be a laborious process, but sometimes it is more helpful than simply slamming the door shut."

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"So that's how interested the Turkish federations are in integration -- if the government does not react to an ultimatum for a change in the immigration law, they go and sulk in the corner. ... On the one hand, there seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding about how democracy works. Whoever demands as an ultimatum that the immigration law is changed, forgets that the law has already been passed by both houses of the German parliament. Chancellor Merkel cannot simply change a few rules in that case."

"On the other hand, however, the Turkish federations are right when they complain about unequal treatment in the immigration law. It is indeed hard to see why Canadians are to be treated differently than Turks when it comes to the requirement of knowledge of German. The argument that a Canadian integrates quicker in Germany than a Turk is an inexcusable blow beneath the belt for the many Turks who have been well integrated in Germany society for decades."

-- David Gordon Smith, 12 noon CET


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