The debate over integration in Germany won't die down. Bavarian Governor Horst Seehofer fanned the flames by telling newsweekly Focus that immigrants from Turkey and Arabic countries didn't integrate as well and that Germany didn't need any additional immigration from "other cultures."
He said Germany should not offset its shortage of skilled labor through immigration from other cultures. "We must first exhaust the potential we have here. I don't agree with the demand for increased immigration from foreign cultures," he told Focus.
Opposition parties have slammed Seehofer, calling him a right-wing populist and accusing him of whipping up hostility towards immigrants in a bid to shore up flagging voter support for his party, the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Merkel defended Seehofer on Monday. "It was a comment focused on skilled workers. We remain a homeland for many people and hope they feel comfortable in Germany," she told reporters during a trip to Bulgaria. "Germany is and remains a cosmopolitan country."
Next year temporary restrictions on people from Eastern European EU member states working in another EU country will expire. Merkel said that means there will be no repeat of the situation Germany faced in the 1960s when it invited large numbers of Turkish "guest workers" to make up for a shortage of labor.
German media commentators say Seehofer's comments are incendiary and divisive and fail utterly to address Germany's key demographic problem: the fact that it will need to attract hundreds of thousands of skilled workers from all "cultures" if it wants to avoid economic decline in the coming decades.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Seehofer has portrayed himself as a slightly xenophobic, friendly conman. He has overlooked the fact that his tricks no longer work with Bavarians. After hearing such sentences, many Bavarians will see even less reason to vote for the CSU."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Germany will erode without skilled immigrants. Even the most optimistic predictions of 100,000 skilled immigrants per year and small numbers of people emigrating show that the net inflow won't be enough."
"Seehofer doesn't have a remotely serious answer to the problem of demographic change. His comment came against the backdrop of a psycho-social disturbance that erupted as a result of the sensationalist treatment of the unread book by Thilo Sarrazin. Seehofer ... got it wrong just like President (Christian) Wulff whose speech (on Oct. 3, German Unity Day when he said "Islam is part of Germany") in parts seemed to refer to Islam as a persecuted minority in Germany. The population isn't worried about whether Islam belongs to Germany but about the reverse, whether Germany will one day be part of Islam to a greater extent than it wants to be. Those who don't understand that aren't just misjudging the public mood, they are failing to appreciate the momentum of an almost irreversible demographic development."
The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
"This statement is the sad continuation of a rapidly accelerating debate that started some time before Thilo Sarrazin's bestseller (a book published by the former German central bank board member in late August saying Germany was in decline because of a growing underclass of Muslim immigrants) and whose next twist we should be anticipating with trepidation. It is basically about establishing an ever stronger dividing line between 'them' and 'us.'"
"The debate is a prime example of how to deepen divisions in society and deliberately stigmatize certain groups. A foundation of our society is at risk of being sacrificed on the altar of opinion polls -- diversity. It took decades for Germany to reach the stage of development where different life plans, sexual orientation, ethnic and religious backgrounds were regarded as an enrichment and not as a threat. It evidently takes only a few months to undo all this progress."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"The CSU and the CDU are trying to send two messages at the same time. One is directed at core voters and says: 'We've always been opposed to a multicultural society!' The other message goes to left-wing liberals and says: 'We're better at handling multiculturalism than the center-left parties.' But it's impossible to do both."
"The contradiction has become embarrassing because the conservatives are simplifying both positions to the point of becoming vulgar: While Seehofer is unthinkingly cribbing Sarrazin, Prresident Wulff is copying romantic visions that even the Social Democrats and Green Party wouldn't back these days. It's no accident. The conservatives are increasingly letting the prevailing zeitgeist dictate their positions. But the Zeitgeist changes from day to day. Sometimes, like in the current stormy integration debate now raging, it turns into a whirlwind. Those who don't have their own standpoint then start wobbling."
The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"What we urgently need is a debate about how we can attract skilled immigrants. But that again doesn't seem to happening. If Seehofer defends himself by saying he must be allowed to raise questions and openly address problems, he's right -- but he has missed his vocation. People who just ask questions should host quiz shows. The job of politicians is to offer concrete solutions."
"The economy lacks skilled workers and the shortage can only be covered through immigration in the long term. Even the best efforts to provide training for our long-term unemployed won't change this demographic problem."
"There is no shortage of practical proposals: making it easier to obtain work visas, acknowledging foreign professional qualificiations and radically shortening the months-long checks conducted by the Federal Labor Agency into whether there are domestic takers for particular jobs that prospective immigrants are applying for. In addition, we need a systematic immigration policy which could consist of annual quotas for various professions with points systems like in Canada and Australia which promote the immigration of highly qualified people. That would help out country a lot more than the eternal repetition of outraged debates."