“The multicultural approach has failed. Totally failed!” German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s words attracted global attention. It was a surprising statement from a chancellor who only recently warned against a Dutch government being reliant on parliamentary support from Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party.
It would be a mistake, however, to think Chancellor Merkel has been won over by Mr Wilders’ arguments. The same speech that denounced the softly-softly integration approach, described Islam as “part of Germany”. But one thing is perfectly clear: the naïve idea that ‘we all live together and we’re all fine with it’ just doesn’t tally with the reality in Germany.
“We brought foreign workers to our country in the 1960s. They live here now and we've been fooling ourselves. We thought they would go away again, but that didn’t happen. Of course the multicultural approach 'we live next to each other and we like it' has failed. Totally failed.”
The figures demonstrate that Germany is a multicultural society. Out of a population of about 82 million, 6.6 million people hold foreign passports. Germany’s largest non-Western minority is its 1.6 million-strong Turkish community. The German capital Berlin has the biggest Turkish population of any city outside Turkey itself. The number of Muslims living in Germany is estimated to be something in excess of three million.
Ms Merkel’s pronouncement on the failure of multiculturalism has everything to do with the fear of electoral upheaval. While the integration debate in Germany’s neighbouring countries (Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, France) has been raging for some time, Germany itself has been noticeably silent on the issue. Criticism of any one ethnic group within society is an extremely sensitive issue, given the country’s Nazi past.
But a few months ago the situation changed dramatically. A book claiming that German society is fundamentally threatened by Islam caused a furore. And René Stadtkewitz, a former party colleague of Chancellor Merkel, set up his own political party, making grateful use of Geert Wilders anti-Islam rhetoric.
Ms Merkel didn’t like this at all. As her party colleague Volker Buffier says:
“Look at what’s happened in Germany’s neighbours, in the Netherlands, in Sweden, in Denmark, in all these countries, right-wing protest parties have sprung up, making it really difficult to form a stable government. That’s exactly what we want to prevent.”
Ms Merkel wants her party to take the lead in the integration debate and to tackle the problems in immigrant neighbourhoods. The government is working on tougher measures requiring immigrants to do more to integrate. Turkish President Abdullah Gül was the first to support Ms Merkel’s tough new stance. He said Turkish people living in Germany should do their best to integrate and learn to speak perfect German.