Migration and Integration: Can we be successful in establishing an open and liberal society?

There has been an increasing discussion in Germany of migration policy since free movement of people from Romania and Bulgaria inside the EU was allowed, that is for seven years of EU-membership. Many of the Bulgarians and Romanians who come to Germany are well skilled or highly skilled, but there is a minority who are not searching for better paid jobs, but for more social security and welfare. Unfortunately, this minority – many of whom are Roma people – defines the image. Last year 70,000 Romanians and Bulgarians came to Germany. Half of those who were living here in 2011 did not have any qualifications. More of them will come, approximately 100,000 to 180,000 people.  The social and financial condition in big cities, like Berlin, Duisburg or Dortmund, with a high number of low skilled or illiterate people, is problematic: many of them do not work and concentrate in certain areas. They do not send their children to school or preschool, many of them are false self-employed. Out of 370,000 people from these countries living in Germany, 10% are recipients of unemployment benefit II. The chance for them to get a job – if they try – is very low. German Migration Scientist, Herbert Brücker, quantifies this group to be up to 60% or even 75% in big cities (recently published study, Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung (IAB), 2014).

Concerning those figures, one can say: the problem is not immigration. The problem is integrability.

Following the integration debate, there is the danger of polarisation; people without a migration background would complain that integration problems were being glossed over, while migrants would withdraw to their own groups, frustrated by the negative and divisive coverage in the media. This perception can be misleading for migration policy in general.

Unfortunately, neither politicians nor the media have the courage to deal with this issue seriously; there is always the fear of behaving in a politically incorrect way, or of being accused of racism and intolerance (German president Joachim Gauck focusses on this problematic situation in an article in the newspaper FAZ, 2014 jan24th). Additionally, in May the European elections will take place. Therefore, the power of nationalists and right wing populists, represented mainly by Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, is rising. They will fill the gap, to be sure.

It is a pity. The German public opinion is not negative towards integration and migration issues. The Integration Barometer (Sachverständigenrat Deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration, SVR) measures the integration climate in Germany. More than 9,200 people, both with and without a migration background, are interviewed to bring to light estimates and assessments on both sides of Germany’s immigration society. The last study (2012) documented that integration has gained in significance in the public debate: more respondents have formed an opinion about integration issues and increasing numbers of people consider integration an important task. And people have long found acceptable ways to live together in their local communities in everyday life of the immigration society – with mutual acceptance and few conflicts.

This positive perception may change. Besides the problems with low skilled people, there are problems with Islamist and extremist groups inside the EU and refugees who try to cross the EU-borders. Human mobility and migration are a reality. We have to deal with mobility in a global perspective. 4.1% of the total EU population were migrants (20.7 million) in 2011.

And inside the EU, actually 14 EU-citizens are living in member states, but not in their native countries, 2.9% of them are from Romania and Bulgaria, most of them in a West European country. The Integration Barometer is evidence that the population does not let itself be misled by heated or even hysterical discussions about integration. But the polarisation of the immigration society can materialise.

How can we prevent it? How can we succeed in stabilizing integration efforts?

We will not be flooded by refugees from poverty. The attraction of our social security system cannot be denied. But there are clear restrictions, even with the “Arbeitnehmerfreizügigkeit” as of January 1st for Romanians and Bulgarians coming to Germany. People may stay longer than six months if they are living on their own or are able to get a job. Otherwise, it is possible to send them back.

The “bad” migration, driven by the generosity of the welfare state, as pointed out several times by German economist Hans-Werner Sinn, will always take place, but on the other hand the majority of immigrants are medium skilled and there is still an economic plus for the welfare system (even though there is a high share of recipients of Hartz IV). The unemployment rate and the total number of recipients of child benefits are below the average for the overall population.

Fact 1: most of the people coming to our country are coming in search of work, in search of opportunities for a better future within, and not outside, our society.

Fact 2: there is no indication of “Armutszuwanderung,” pointed out clearly by all studies.

And, after all, we do need the well and medium skilled people from other countries due to the demographic factor: around 2020, for every young person entering the labour force, almost 2 people will be going into retirement in Germany. There is an urgent need to get the willing people and let them work to guarantee GDP growth. The number of highly skilled workers has increased slightly; the biggest groups are Indians, Croatians, Americans and the Chinese. There is still a great potential inside the EU. The recognition of professional qualifications is essential to attracting more highly and medium skilled people (the positive effect of immigration, especially considering the economic and financial figures, is shown by Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln (IW) in a new policy paper).

Finally, what can be done?

Migration Policy Reforms are necessary. A Framework by the European Commission discussed in the Global Approach to Migration and Mobility (GAMM) can be helpful, especially regarding the discussion on Open Borders. Generally speaking, there must be an increasing effort to manage migrant flows, and to strengthen the welfare state and the economic and cultural benefits for the society at the same time.

Bearing in mind the belief that “Integration takes place locally”, various actors are lobbying to shift the authority for integration policy from the federal and Länder level to the municipal level (see SVR, 2012). The municipalities undoubtedly have an important role to play in successful integration. But integration politics is not mainly local. The difficulties big cities have to face concerning refugees and migrants at the moment show the need for a joint action on every level. Preserving social peace is important to preventing abuses of welfare benefits. We must realize that the well-educated are not the only ones we have to deal with.

Education levels must be defined, and the German language must be learned by all those who are coming. The Language Barrier is dangerous: the percentage of immigrant workers among respondents that claim to speak German well enough to have a conversation is declining, as recently pointed out in the OECD-Eurobarometer 2013.

And, last but not least, the virtues of a free and liberal democratic society must be accepted – irrespective of religious or political creed, colour or race. On the other hand: cultural and social specificity and diversity must be respected. Political participation with the right to vote, the right to be elected, and the dual citizenship might be helpful. Otherwise, migration without integration will be an unresolved issue not only for Germany but for Europe.

avatar