Today, the FES is publishing a report that examines whether new laws are needed to promote more integration and participation. The authors Dr. Farhad Dilmaghani and Dr. Johannes Eichenhofer propose adding a new national policy objective to the Basic Law and propose a Federal Participation Act. We discussed these ideas with Dr. Eichenhofer.
FES: “Integration is a process and cannot be ordered by the law.” This, or similar sentiments, can be heard frequently in debates about integration policy. Why do you think that legislative changes are an important and expedient measure in order to improve integration?
Johannes Eichenhofer: It is true that the law alone cannot achieve the integration of an immigration society. For this, a culture of welcome and integration that is lived by all members of the immigration society is needed. At the same time, the law's influence on integration processes can hardly be overstated, as it can both promote and deter integration efforts. For example, “guest workers” who lived in Germany in the 1950s to 1970s only awarded an unlimited residence permit in “duly substantiated cases”. Their children were taught in so-called “national classes”, apart from German children. Today, most would acknowledge the fact that integration is a task that requires concerted efforts by all policy areas, which includes passing corresponding laws.
Your report discusses a new national policy objective. Why should the Basic Law be amended?
By now, it is undeniable that the Federal Republic of Germany is an immigration country. However, especially in the legal context, guiding principles for the immigration society are lacking. If one compares the relevant legal fields, such as asylum and residence law, education law, labor and social citizenship law, it becomes apparent that many regulations are in conflict with each other. For instance, in residence law the promotion of integration is dependent on whether the party concerned already has already been issued a residence permit, or at least has good prospects of a permanent residency. In education law, however, compulsory schooling is not contingent on these prerequisites.
All branches of government would have to observe a new national policy objective of “Diversity and Integration”. Further, a national policy objective would require coordination of all sub-constitutional integration regulations. The national policy objective could also be the basis for a concept of integration that is based on the fundamental rights and principles set down in the Basic Law. Thus, the concept of “Diversity” would incorporate freedom of religion and freedom of speech, as well as the general right of privacy. Immigrants should not have assimilate – meaning give up their culture – even though demands for integration on part of the German state are justified. Rather, the goal is to live together in peace and diversity. For this, it is necessary not only to acknowledge diversity, but also to improve the integration of people with an immigration history by making it easier to take part of key societal, economic and cultural resources. Finally, in times of great insecurity regarding immigration approaches, national policy objectives are especially crucial. They provide orientation to the state and, at the same time, contain a non-regression clause: Something that has been declared a national policy objective cannot be questioned or weakened anymore.
You are further proposing a Federal Participation Act. In what way would it improve integration?
The central task of a Federal Participation Act would be ensuring that our immigration society's diversity is reflected in all branches of government, in order to concretize the national policy objective. Specifically, this means increasing the number of immigrants in public service positions. Making the federal administration more intercultural would have many advantages: It would make the administration's workings more transparent to immigrants and increase their acceptance of public authorities. Finally, coexistence in an immigration society functions better if people with and without an immigration background encounter each other in different roles and environments.
In the course of refugee policy debates, the German Bundestag passed a number of legislative packages last year. Why do you still see the need for more regulation?
The Asylum Packages I and II and the Federal Integration Act only apply to refugees that came to Germany in recent times. The Asylum Packages' primary aim is accelerating asylum procedures. They only occasionally contain measures relevant to integration policy, such as increasing integration classes or relaxing the ban on temporary employment. The Federal Integration Act, however, incentivizes vocational training and eases labor market access. At the same time, the Integration Act also contains the controversial residential requirement for people that already have a residence permit. These laws then show exactly the state of indecisiveness between resistance and integration that could be ameliorated by declaring a new national policy objective in favor of integration. Measures like the ones we included in our suggestion for a Participation Act and that would foster intercultural openness are not part of the Integration Act at all.
What are the biggest barriers to the kind of legislation you envision?
Simply said, a political majority is needed. In order to pass a constitutional amendment like the implementation of the national objective “Diversity and Integration”, a two-thirds majority of members of the Bundestag and Bundesrat is needed. There is still a long way to go until then. In order to pass a Federal Participation Act, a simple Bundestag majority would suffice. Whether this majority could be established depends on a couple of factors. First, there is the parliamentary election in September. Second, the current public mood is very influential. There are few topics that are as emotionally loaded as migration and integration policy.
You've repeatedly written that laws constitute the framework for social and individual action. How can the law contribute to developing a collective identity that fosters integration?
The law and in particular the constitution are not just an ensemble of rights and duties. According to the Bundesverfassungsgericht's (Federal Constitutional court) established case law, the fundamental rights laid out in the Basic Law also constitute an objective value system. Thus, the Basic Law makes our society's central values transparent. They are the foundation on which we have to build our life together. With our demand for the national policy objective “Diversity and Integration” the Basic Law would be amended in a way that could not have been foreseen at the time of its ratification on May 23, 1949: A foundation for coexistence in an immigration society.
Thank you for speaking with us!
Dr. Johannes Eichenhofer is a research fellow and postdoc at the Law Faculty of the University Bielefeld. Further, he is deputy chairperson of DeutschPlus e.V.
The questions were asked by Dietmar Molthagen, FES.