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Armin Laschet {*}

More pragmatically than a few years ago

A discussion with the North-Rhine/Westphalian
Minister for Integration

 

From: Herder Korrespondenz, 9/2007, P. 445-449
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    At the second integration summit at the end of June an extensive so-called national integration plan was presented. What integration means in general and how the readiness for integration can be promoted, about that we spoke with Armin Laschet, Minister for integration, generations, families and women in North Rhine-Westphalia. Alexander Foitzik asked the questions.

 

HK: Mr. Laschet, are the arguments about the planned building of a representative, large mosque in Cologne-Ehrenfeld symptomatic for the attempts of self-discovery of a newly converted immigration society?

Laschet: The building of such a mosque makes visible what has changed particularly in our cities. It is understandable that some uneasiness develops when mosques are built and at the same time for example in the diocese Essen nearly 100 churches are closed. That cannot leave unmoved those for whom their Christian conviction and their faith are important. But we must not charge Muslims with the fact that Christians no longer go to the church and the attachment to the church more and more decreases. That is why one has to look very carefully

 


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what it actually is that is expected of the Muslims in a special way. Besides the constitution does not only grant freedom of religion and with it also the right to build a house of God. Just a convinced Christian should understand that one does not want make one's prayers in a backyard or, as for instance in Aachen, in a former petrol station but in a beautiful, appropriate building.

HK: But how can such a building then be realized as conflict-free as possible in a city such as Cologne?

Laschet: There are very different examples. In Duisburg for instance just Germany's up to now largest mosque is being built. Here too the client is DITIB, the umbrella association for Turkish-Islamic mosque communities; that means correctly: the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion. From the outset one tried in Duisburg to get into discussion with the neighbours, also with the adjoining parishes, (and one) integrated an intercultural centre. There were no protests at all. In Cologne on the part of the religious community the city was approached, an architectural competition announced, which was won by Gottfried Böhm, the renowned architect of churches.

HK: DITIB also in Cologne is client and is there equally open and ready for dialogue. Why does it nevertheless come to such heavy protests?

Laschet: The opinion poll of the Kölner Stadtanzeiger is interesting. It says that in the direct neighbourhood of the planned mosque the agreement to the project is greatest, in the rest of the city smaller. I also find it remarkable that Cologne's Muslims for example want to refrain from ringing out the Muezzin's call outside - the Federal Constitutional Court would probably grant them that in a case of court. But one deliberately does not want to provoke the neighbourhood. And so they gave several signals of readiness for integration. In general DITIB is almost the most unsuitable example now critically to discuss about Islam, for DITIB stands up e.g. for the consistent separation of state and religion. When you enter the present building in Cologne, first the picture of the Federal President hits you in the eye. There integration- and German language courses take place - everything that one actually wishes. We have other Muslim associations that make more problems.

HK: Politicians and migration experts welcome the building of mosques as sign that the Muslims arrived in our society, because now they want really to live also their religion here. But in parts of the population this obviously causes rather fears and resentment; for instance the concern to become the minority in one's own district…

Laschet: "Islam is part of German's society", so Mr. Schäuble, the then Federal Minister of the Interior put this development in a nutshell. Now we notice in practice what that can mean. Three million Muslims live in Germany - a considerable minority. Those who are born here will also stay here. And since they want to stay here, they now also build more ambitious, more beautiful prayer houses. But also the fears in the receiving society are to be taken seriously. They belong to the process of conception of oneself of an immigration country. One must also be allowed to express those fears. Not everyone who speaks up against the building of mosques must at once be condemned as radical right-wing, and the argument must by no means be left to only radical right-wing groups. So it is also good that there are discussions within the democratic parties, so for instance in Cologne, where the CDU said a conditional 'Yes' to the mosque after an open general Party Congress. The topic is moving, and therefore it belongs also into the parties; into the CDU even more than into a party that sees itself only as a secular one.

HK: At the second "integration summit", to which the Federal Chancellor invited at the end of June, an extensive "national integration plan" was presented that was to set the course for the future German integration policy. But is there even approximately so much agreement about what integration means at all, how much readiness to integration one can legitimately demand of immigrants, or what contribution the receiving society has to make?

Laschet: During the summit and the drawing up of the national integration plan the immigrants themselves sat at the table and formulated self obligations for themselves. All social spheres were involved: from the churches to sport and economy. Everyone said for his/her area what now is urgently to happen in the matter of integration. The parties too moved noticeably closer together in this topic. The CDU at last recognized that we are an immigration country, and the left-wing parties that one must also formulate demands on the immigrants. So the integration plan contains both aspects: promoting and demanding - undoubtedly a great success. We lead today a public discourse about forced marriages or the knowledge of the German language that must be demanded from children, because otherwise they have no chance in our society. Altogether one speaks much more pragmatically about these things than yet a few years ago.

HK: But is this discussion not still too much concentrated on the immigrants' readiness for integration

 


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respectively their refusal? Should it not now be more about what the so-called receiving society is to do, in order to bind the immigrants of whom it is in need to itself?

Laschet: The emphasis in the program and in the whole debate is rather on promoting chances. I don't have the impression that too much is demanded, also not with the national integration plan. One considers on all levels where we can give new chances to people with an immigration history. Within the receiving society the part that can be done for instance by everyone individually is naturally rather small, and it is above all about what the state does: how the number of trainee posts for young people of immigrant families can be increased, how better education chances can be achieved. With the immigrants it is rather about their individual contribution. Everyone must daily decide for him/herself how do I get into the society, how do I educate my children, which education chances do I give them, how do I earn my living. There the roles are unequally allocated. As German I can still make myself somewhere at home in the majority society and do not at all have to occupy myself with integration policy.

HK: In view of a spectacular trial on murder of honour, of the urgent letters of a Berlin secondary modern school, and with scared look at the revolting immigrant youth in the Paris Banlieue one year ago it was also in Germany said that the integration policy had completely failed; one was tempted to see everywhere parallel societies. How can success and failure of integration policy be assessed at all, how can the implementation of more than 400 self-obligations in the national integration plan be monitored?

Laschet: Such monitoring-mechanisms are still missing, but we are creating them; I have suggested this also at the integration summit. We need indicators with the help of which one examines whether this or that integration measure was a success or not. When all meet next year at the third integration summit with the Federal Chancellor one will be in agreement how marvellously everything has developed - but this is no result. The Immigration Council led by the former parliamentary speaker Rita Süssmuth and the migration expert Klaus Bade had suggested developing such an indicator model. Otto Schily, the then Federal Minister of the Interior in 2004 dissolved the Immigration Council. But at present we are developing with scientists a similar indicator model: How many (more) immigrant children do now visit the Secondary School, how many (fewer) pupils are there at secondary modern schools who remain without school-leaving certificate, is the children's knowledge of German better or worse, how is it about the chances of trainee posts? Hence a whole catalogue of indicators that must be examined by a third instance like the Immigration Council, similarly as e.g. with PISA. Such a mechanism is indispensable for integration politics.

HK: What are for you the crucial criteria in such a catalogue?

Laschet: For me integration is successful when everyone has his/her chance of education and when s/he succeeds afterwards to find with this education chance a trainee post and a job. The one who has a job is furthest integrated. In vocational surroundings social integration succeeds much more easily than in the milieu of social welfare assistance; s/he develops a completely different self-confidence. But integration fails - that is the same in France as in Berlin - where people have no perspective for their lives.

HK: The so-called PISA studies showed that children above all from socially weak immigrant families have clearly fewer education chances in Germany than in most of the other states also examined. Can those children be integrated into the existing German educational system at all?

Laschet: Yes, I think so. We tried in North Rhine-Westphalia to make possible approximately equal starting chances first by the objective that everyone speaks German when s/he comes to school. For it we introduced obligatory language tests from the fourth year of life and offer already in the kindergarten two years of language promotion. With it now also other Lands of the Federal Republic begin, as for instance Baden-Württemberg. This way too is a component of the national integration plan. Further one is to make the school system altogether more flexible, and make changes of the school possible not only after the fourth and tenth school year. Our new school law says that also in the secondary modern school each year must be checked whether a child was not perhaps able to attend a higher school. Here one is to look more exactly at the individual case. And not least we need in general all-day-schools for children of socially weaker families, so that they get e.g. also training in the arts. That is why we at present in North Rhine-Westphalia extend quite strongly the all-day secondary modern schools.

 

"Language is the Key to Education Chances"

HK: Imparting the ability to speak the German language was seen as the weak spot of the past integration policy. Against the recent greater severity of the law on immigration as regards faculty of speech there were clear protests on the part of the immigrants' associations in the run-up to the integration summit. Does one over here attach too much importance to language as integration factor? Classical immigration countries like the USA see that rather in a more relaxed way…

Laschet: In Germany someone without faculty of speech has no chance in the educational system - that applies also to German children who have an ever poorer command of their mother tongue. That may be different in the USA where one in

 


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certain areas just with Spanish alone gets through life. In Germany that will not work. In this respect the language is and remains the key for education chances and for vocational success. Whoever does not speak German fails in the German educational system and then finds no job. But naturally the integration policy as a whole is not exhausted in language promotion. France is the example demonstrating the opposite: The children and young persons of the immigrants speak French and are nevertheless without perspective, because they do not get into the French society.

HK: Last year the number of naturalizations rose for the first time again. Since the new naturalization law in the year 2000 came into force this number had sunk year by year. But the experts assume that the year 2006 remains an exception and that still many people do not want to be naturalized, although they were entitled. Do we again need a discussion about naturalization and integration?

Laschet: Naturalization can surely not stand at the beginning. Or the other way round: Each naturalization is already an integration success, because those who are naturalized have already been living in the country for a long time, have a job, earn their living, have given up their old nationality and taken on the new one, and speak German. All those things are integration successes, but we need more of them. It is obvious that more people could be naturalized but they do not want it. That is why in North Rhine-Westphalia we have planned a naturalization campaign to convince more people that together with naturalization they achieve also more rights, among other things the right to vote.

HK: Are the hurdles for naturalization nevertheless too high, the procedure too costly and too complicated, as potential candidates deplore time and again?

Laschet: I do not think so. For me the crucial thing of the new nationality law is that children get the nationality with their birth, and that one accepts for the time of childhood also the double nationality. That is a very much inviting offer, and it is a tremendous difference compared to the old nationality law: So far the ius sanguinis applied, according to which the one who descends from Germans is German. Now the ius soli applies; who is born in Germany is German. That must still get into people's heads, but it was a very important step. Who lives here relatively simply gets the nationality.

HK: The first age groups that were born into the so-called option model can and must in the near future decide for one nationality…

Laschet: Up to now I am confident that that will work well.

HK: Of what importance is the religious aspect in the whole integration process for the integration policy?

Laschet: It is of no crucial importance. On the one hand there are very many secular Muslims, and on the other hand many emigrants who are no Muslims but nevertheless have integration problems. The question is what education chances somebody has and how s/he can participate in the social life. But religion in all has today become much more a public topic; that was different twenty years ago. As Muslims today formulate their religious affiliation very self-confidently, so also among Christians again a more engaged discussion about their positions and convictions takes place.

HK: Thus the belonging to different religious affiliations is not a definite burden?

Laschet: No, that at best rises up a little bit occasionally, as just in the case of the new building of a mosque. But today one is talking in a more engaged way about religion - on the part of the Muslims just as well as the Christians again talk more about their convictions and values, and the two large churches again show more profile. In the last years many things simply sounded very nice and peaceful - but now there is/we have an intellectual debate. I regard that as very helpful - also for the process of integration.

 

"The Churches with their Specific Competence Remain in Demand"

HK: And beyond that intellectual debate - are there not occasionally also integration-political questions mixed up e.g. with the fear of a violent Islamism, are Muslim immigrants not seen as an alleged, however disposed threat?

Laschet: Our whole integration debate - that in former times was also different - is at no point led under security aspects, questions of defence against terror or the like - by nobody and completely rightfully! The Turks are our largest group of immigrants. And their understanding of Islam is wholly unsuspected and cannot be compared with the Islam in the Arab area. From this group comes next to no danger. So there is - with one exception - no example of a Turkish suicide assassin.

HK: A study published at the end of June by the Essen Centre for Turkey Studies had the result that the religiousness of the Turkish immigrants in North Rhine-Westphalia decreases. The authors of the study assessed the results as successful integration. Probably to the surprise of the present journalists, they did not want to be pleased about it…

 


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Laschet: But it is also strange when we feel it to be positive when it says the religious commitment decreases, and this is even judged as integration success. For me as a Christian such a reaction is at least unusual.

HK: Among Muslim immigrants religiousness is nevertheless regarded as integration obstacle…

Laschet: There we measure with two different standards. If somebody is active in the mosque community, we fear the support of a parallel society; but in the case of the parish this is seen as decidedly desirable. And only in passing: With the so-called Volunteer Survey of the Federal Family Ministry, in which the voluntary commitment is recorded and examined, one does not even ask for the commitment in a mosque community. If a German man kills his wife out of jealousy, that is a family drama; if a Turk does it, it is a murder of honour. It is not my intention to render murders of honour trite, but we must learn to look closely. And so it is also with the religious commitment. Actually one should have respect for it, and when that religious commitment decreases we cannot announce it as integration success.

HK: What does an integration Minister expect of the churches in Germany before this background?

Laschet: The churches have been doing good integration work for 30 years. After that the topic had not yet arrived at all in politics. They do that from their own motivation. The entire migration social work is also essentially carried by the large church associations: Caritas and Diakonie. That is why the integration politician expects primarily that the churches continue as before. But I would wish that one continues to commit oneself just also in the education of early childhood, in day nurseries, even if the number of Protestant and Catholic children further decreases. This is a very crucial place of church presence, but nobody can demand that a Catholic kindergarten cares for 100 per cent Turkish children. It is of course also very important that the churches go on taking part in the dialogue of the religions - self-confident and clear in their own conviction and position.

HK: Both large churches maintain also secondary schools. Should those schools not be purposefully more open for children and young people of immigrant families?

Laschet: Those secondary schools have of course the "problem" that they are - because of their high quality standard - very much in demand. That is why they already today must reject even Catholic children. The first aim is that clearly more immigrant children attend grammar schools, and there are also many good public schools. Though the Catholic schools would also do themselves a favour, if they took up a certain percentage of children with different cultural background; all involved could learn a lot by that - just in questions of intercultural competence. My children for example are at an episcopal grammar school where next to no immigrants are.

HK: Engaged integration-political declarations on the part of the church leadership or active church welfare organisations are one thing - but have Protestants and Catholics altogether something like an avant-garde role in the process of integration?

Laschet: They are this avant-garde surely in the church welfare organisations. I would wish the church educational establishments made progress in that respect. Despite all financial obligations one must not arrive at an attitude only to worry about one's "own" children. Perhaps at present the parishes have mostly enough to do with themselves. But altogether integration has now at last become a topic of the whole society. Now all depends on the substance, i.e. that the many integration efforts on all levels really lead to a success. There the churches with their specific competence without doubt remain in demand.

 

    {*} The lawyer and journalist Armin Laschet (born in 1961) has since 2005 been Minister for integration, generations, families and women in North Rhine-Westphalia. From 1994 to 1998 he was member of the German Bundestag, from 1999 to 2005 of the European parliament. From 1991 to 1994 Laschet was editor-in-chief of the church magazine for the diocese of Aachen and since 1995 he has been leading the Einhard publishing house.

 

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