Speaking Integration Calling on Immigrants: Talk German at Home

A key political ally of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has called on immigrants to speak German at home, triggering scorn from allies and the opposition.
CSU politician and Bavarian premier, Horst Seehofer, at a nutrition project with immigrants.

Faced with the rising popularity of an anti-euro, immigration-skeptic party, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bavarian allies, the Christian Social Union, are considering a proposal which would call on immigrants to speak German at home.

“We want to make the German language central to the debate about integration and better education chances,” Andreas Scheuer, the general secretary of the CSU and member of the federal parliament, told state broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk. The party is to consider the proposal at a meeting on Monday.

“Therefore, one cannot speak of a regulation, an obligation, controls or language police,” Mr. Scheuer said.

Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats, or CDU, are in a right-left coalition with the CSU and the Social Democrats. However, the established parties face a new rival in the euro-skeptic party, Alternative for Germany, which has a more conservative attitude to immigration and integration.

Since its foundation last year, the upstart party has won seats in three German states and the European parliament.

Immigration has become a highly debated issue in Germany. Almost 21 percent of the population has a migrant background and the country has become a major destination for immigrants, particularly from eastern and central European states and Syria, provoking popular fears of rising crime rates and abuse of Germany’s welfare system.

However, a study by the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) published last week showed that foreigners living in Germany contribute a net profit to the country's welfare system, even though two thirds of Germans believe that they pose a huge burden.

Europe’s most populous country, home to 81 million residents, has seen inflows of foreigners rise to a 20-year high.


Popular Germany-01 immigration


Immigration grew last year more than in any other country, according to the migration outlook report of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). About 465,000 people came to live in Germany in 2013 – twice as many as in 2007. This year, the threshold of 500,000 could be crossed for the first time. After the United States, Germany is the world's most popular immigration destination.

The CSU, which is located in one of Germany’s most wealthy states, Bavaria, has previously grabbed headlines with the slogan “You cheat, you leave," referring to a proposal to deport immigrants who abused social benefits.

Government regulation of what is allowed in private homes. The CSU has arrived in Absurdistan. Yasmin Fahimi, SPD General Secretary

The proposal is not expected to become law in Bavaria or Germany. Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Ms. Merkel’s CDU, was scornful of the idea.

“It is not the business of politicians whether I speak Latin, Klingon or Hessian at home," Mr. Tauber said on Twitter.

Yasmin Fahimi, Tauber's counterpart in the Social Democrats party, also criticized the proposal. “Government regulation of what is allowed in private homes. The CSU has arrived in Absurdistan,” Ms. Fahimi tweeted on the social-networking platform.

Despite Germany’s unease with immigration, the country's looming demographic crisis means that it will require more not fewer immigrants in the future. The country is already experiencing something of a skills shortage. And faced with an ageing population and low fertility rate, immigrants can help keep the country’s economy, Europe’s largest, from going into decline in the long term.


Gilbert Kreijger is an editor for Handelsblatt Global Edition and has covered companies and markets in Europe.  To contact the author: k[email protected]