Cablegate: Nrw State Minister Explains Germany's Integration Challenge

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1. (SBU) Summary: North Rhine-Westphalia's (NRW) Minister for
Generations, Women, Families and Integration Armin Laschet told
the Ambassador and Dusseldorf CG November 18 that Germany has a
multi-faceted integration problem that must be immediately
addressed. The Minister noted Germany's long-time reluctance to
define itself as an immigrant country and discussed how NRW is
trying to address integration issues. Germany's challenge is
singular, Laschet said, it must now "catch up" on integration,
after having denied for decades that the issue even existed, and
at the same time pursue a new influx of educated immigrants as
Germany's population ages and shrinks. End summary.

Germany's Fifty-Year Immigration History

--------------------------------------------- -----------

2. (SBU) The Ambassador asked for Laschet's views on two key
issues-Germany's shrinking demographics and efforts to integrate
existing immigrants. Laschet came into office in 2005 following
the victory of current NRW Minister-President J|rgen R|ttgers
(CDU) as the only state minister in Germany with a portfolio
that includes integration. Laschet described integration as a
relatively new topic in German society, particularly for his
party, the CDU, despite a fifty-year post-WWII history.
Immigration to Germany, he said, began in 1955 with Italian and
other Southern European immigrants. Turks came starting in 1961
-- as so-called guest workers, not migrants - following the
signing of an agreement between the FRG and Turkey. In the late
1980s and early 1990s, Germany received 300,000 to 400,000
asylum seekers per year, thanks to a liberal asylum law. After
the asylum law was tightened in 1993, the numbers dropped
drastically to 30,000 to 40,000 annually. Germany passed its
first immigration law in 2005, which allows highly skilled
workers to immigrate to Germany. In 2005, just 600 people came
under that income-based system. The conundrum is, Laschet
noted, that while many Germans believe that there is a large
flow of immigrants to the country, the truth is, it has slowed
to a trickle, not nearly enough to help with the country's
shrinking population and need for skilled and educated labor.
NRW alone, he said, currently needs at least 6,000 engineers.

Two Major Problems: Demographics and Integration

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3. (SBU) Two major integration-related issues with which Germany
must contend are (1) increasing the relatively low number of
skilled immigrants, and (2) integrating those immigrants already
in Germany. The first is a national policy issue, and Laschet
emphasized that there is no choice but to increase the number of
skilled immigrants since highly skilled workers like engineers
and nurses continue to leave the country. In 2008, for the
first time, more people left Germany than immigrated to the

4. (SBU) The second problem, the integration of immigrants who
have lived in Germany for years, he referred to as "catch-up"
integration. According to Laschet, even as it became clear that
the "guest workers" were here to stay, the German establishment
put its head in the sand, not encouraging integration nor German
language education. While the CDU ignored the problem, the
Social Democrats (SPD), per Laschet, thought it would not be
right, given Germany's history, to "force" the children of
immigrants to learn German. Now everyone is playing catch-up,
particularly in NRW, he said. The figures here are striking, he
said: some 38% of the children in NRW have a migrant
background; in urban areas, as much as 50%. The majority have
Turkish migrant backgrounds.

Education as a Solution to Integration

--------------------------------------------- ---

5. (SBU) Laschet cited then-Interior Minister Wolfgang
Schaeuble's 2006 affirmation that "Islam is part of German
society" as the real starting point for integration. NRW,
Laschet explained, is pushing ahead with Islamic instruction in
the public schools. He confirmed that they will shift from
government-defined to religious community-defined Islamic
lessons in public schools, beginning with the 2010 school year.
He was optimistic that this change will assist with efforts to
integrate the Muslim population. At the same time, some 24% of
four-year old children in NRW -- many of immigrant background,

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but by no means all - do not speak German at the mandated level,
according to Laschet. They are now being tested at four years
of age, and those who do not speak adequate German receive two
years of language assistance in pre-school, preparing them to
enter elementary school on a level playing field with other
children. The hope is that this will eventually sharply reduce
the number of immigrant children who fall behind or cannot
qualify for a high quality secondary and post-secondary
education. A more far-reaching reform of the education system
is coming, Laschet explained; both the CDU and the SPD in NRW
have education reform plans in their election platforms for the
upcoming May 2010 state parliament elections.

6. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

© Scoop Media

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