Migration politics

Like A Phoenix From The Ashes – Germany’s New Immigration Council

Logo des Sachverständigenrates deutscher Stiftungen für Intergration und Migration; © SVR Logo des Sachverständigenrates deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration; © SVRThree years after it was disbanded the Immigration Council is now enjoying an amazing renewal. The chances of its survival are also looking good, as this time the Council has taken the form of an political independent, academic brain trust working on a private basis.

On 15th October 2008 the Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration (Advisory Board of German Foundations on Migration and Integration) came into being. This independent council of experts with its headquarters in Berlin has taken on a range of tasks including academically monitoring and analysing immigration policy on both a national and regional level, taking a stand on integration and immigration issues and recommending courses of action to be taken. Starting in autumn 2009 a so-called “Integration Barometer” is to regularly shed light on the attitudes and moods prevailing in German society with respect to immigration and integration based on various surveys that have been conducted.

Collective expertise

Concentrated Expertise (from the left): Prof. Michael Bommes , Prof. Yasemin Karakaşoğlu, Prof. Thomas Straubhaar, Prof Ursula Neumann, Prof. Werner Schiffauer, chairman  Prof. Klaus J. Bade, Prof. Christine Langenfeld, Prof. Heinz Faßmann, Prof. Steven Vertovec; © Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und MigrationOver the next three years 1.7 million euros have been provided to consolidate this joint project in which eight foundations are involved. “This merging of German foundations is something completely new,” says Wilhelm Krull, the Secretary-General of the Volkswagen Foundation and Chairman of the Federal Association of German Foundations. “For here it is not just a case of the joint financing of the project, but more the opportunity for a group of foundations to work together on a social issue and to develop approaches to solving the problems.”

The nine-strong committee with its nine members has bundled an appreciable amount of collective academic expertise. The members were selected by an international commission under the guidance of the former President of The German Parliament, Rita Süssmuth (CDU). She is particularly satisfied with the way things have turned out, “The Advisory Board of German Foundations on Migration and Integration is a unique civil society project for which we strove to find internationally renowned experts. After a long period of intensive research and lots of talks we eventually succeeded in our endeavours. In future the members of the board will monitor and assess political developments in the field of integration and immigration in Germany.”

An old acquaintance

Klaus J. Bade; © BadeThe chairman of the advisory board is the internationally renowned historian and immigration researcher, Klaus J. Bade, an old acquaintance from the days of the former Immigration Council – a product of the previous red-green government (coalition of the Social Democrats with the Green Party). The old Immigration Council, which was extremely short-lived, brought together representatives from the fields of politics, employers’ associations and the trade unions and Bade was its vice-president with Rita Süssmuth as president.

In contrast to the way it is portrayed today, back then, the Council was not so much a victim of economising and cuts, but actually fell prey to all the party-political wrangling over red-green immigration policies. On 2nd April 2003 it was commissioned in an official decree from the Federal Minister of Internal Affairs, Otto Schily (SPD), to support the government on immigration and integration issues – in much the same way as Germany’s “Five Wise Men”, the country’s council of economic experts. In the first annual reviews however there was a whole series of proposals that pressed for a sweeping relaxation and liberalisation of Germany’s immigration policies and these met with considerable opposition. Critics were particularly upset by the recommendation to bring up to 25,000 skilled professionals from abroad to Germany at a time when there were over four million unemployed in the country – although it was expressly stated that this would only be the case if it had been confirmed by the German Federal Employment Agency that this demand could not be met with domestic manpower. As the disbanding of the council had become one of the conditions for striking a compromise in the tug-of-war discussions to reach some kind of consensus on the controversial new immigration law in summer 2005, the Council was dissolved as from the 1st January 2005.

Bridging the gap

In view of all the “groping in the dark” that has been going on in the field of immigration politics over the last few years the call for a new, similar institution has been getting louder. The North-Rhine Westphalian Minister for Integration, Armin Laschet (CDU), managed to express exactly what many people were thinking when he euphorically welcomed the establishment of a new form of the council, “The new Advisory Board on Migration and Integration will bridge a gap that was wide open for too long.” The German government’s Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration, Maria Böhmer, is also quite optimistic, “The Advisory Board will be able to provide politics with the right back-up to help us cope with the challenges presented by integration and immigration.”

In his inaugural address the chairman, Klaus J. Bade, who promotes a points system for the assessment of immigrants as is the case in typical immigration countries like Canada, advocated a more effective regulation of immigration. At the same time he criticised the Germans’ negative attitude, “Immigration is apparently a threat from outside the country and causes social problems inside the country – both these allegations are false.” He also said that when it came to integration we had to start thinking in terms of two to three decades and not just in terms of the two to three years between elections.

Roland Detsch
works as free-lance editor, journalist and author in Landshut and Munich.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
March 2009

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