German Elections: Where do the parties stand on asylum, immigration and integration?

Germany’s Bundestag elections are quickly approaching and while many are presenting the outcome as a foregone win for the indefatigable Angela Merkel of the CDU, with nearly half of voters undecided it’s still possible that there are some surprises in store. The only thing that’s for sure? Hardly anyone has read through all the long and jargon-packed campaign platforms that parties have published to present their vision for their future.

Hardly anyone- except us! As usual, Migration Voter presents the run down, straight from the party platforms, of what parties are promising to change or keep the same in the areas of immigration, asylum and integration. We’ll delve in deeper to certain topics over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, we present here an overview of the specific policies proposed by the big six parties. You may think you already know where they stand- prepare to be surprised, as we were.

CDU/ CSU: 2015 won’t be repeated

Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) and Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union)

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Angela Merkel and Joachim Herrmann – Image via Markus Spiske on Flickr (http://bit.ly/2xAPlll) CC by 2.0

Main Proposals:

  • Prevent a repeat of 2015 by reaching deals with third countries to stop people seeking asylum from entering Europe, using the EU-Turkey deal as an example
  • Support a new immigration act that will allow qualified workers with a job contract to migrate to Germany under certain conditions
  • Strengthen external EU borders by providing additional support for external border agency Frontex, and continue to allow internal EU borders until a common EU asylum system has been defined
  • Oppose dual citizenship

There is surprisingly little in the way of direct policy proposals related to refugees and immigrants in the CDU and CSU’s joint platform. In a way that makes sense, since they have their name on most current policies. On the other hand, the program refers in many places to areas of dissatisfaction with Germany’s migration experience, offering reassuring statements that stop short of concrete policy proposals.

The CDU/CSU makes clear in their program that the refugee experience of 2015 will in no way be repeated– important, since the CDU’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the helm. To prevent a repeat, they pledge to keep the number of refugees “permanently low” and are in favor of Europe concluding further treaties with third countries to prevent migration across the Mediterranean- using the model of the EU-Turkey deal. They would also declare North African countries Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria safe countries of origin to enable faster returns of people from those countries. At the same time, they propose a “Marshall Plan” for Africa, an interesting idea that deserves more detail.

They briefly touch on a possible reform to the immigration law to make it possible for people with job offers to migrate to Germany (“Skilled Workers Immigration Act” ). This idea is trendy among other parties as well, but CDU/CSU fails to elaborate further on what such a policy would look like.

“Whatever their background, every single person in Germany is expected to abide by our laws. There will be no exceptions in this respect. Integration is beneficial to both sides and prevents the emergence of parallel societies.”

Their other mentions of immigrants are normative but lack concrete policy recommendations to back them up. For instance, they write that they expect all people in Germany to follow the Consitution, regardless of whether they have “migration background”. They want to prevent the emergence of “parallel societies” and multiculturalism, preferring instead German leading culture (Leitkultur) and regional or local cultures. . The platform fails to explain what German leading culture is. The reference to the preservation of regional or local cultures leaves the reader slightly confused. They think everyone should speak German, and respect the existence of Israel. It’s unclear, however, how such statements translate into policies- aside from a mention of opposition to dual citizenship.

In short, the CDU has kept it vague on the issue of immigration and asylum this time around, perhaps preferring to stand on their record, or hoping to change the subject to less controversial terrain.


SPD: European solidarity to handle migration

Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands)

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Martin Schulz- via SPD Saar on Flickr, (http://bit.ly/2esoYcI) (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • Support sharing of asylum management across EU countries, i.e. people who arrive in the EU to seek asylum are distributed amongst member states. Countries who participate should receive financial support from the EU.
  • Create a new immigration law based on the Canadian model: a points-based system that will allow qualified individuals with a job offer to come to Germany if they meet certain requirements.
  • Permanent Residents should have the right to vote in local elections.

As we have previously discussed, the SPD’s program in relation to asylum and refugees is heavily tilted towards EU-wide solutions. This is a reasonable position given the EU-wide scale of the phenomenon but contains an inherent weakness for a domestic electoral platform in that it contains many positions which cannot be directly achieved by the party in power in Germany, only with the acquiescence of other EU member states.

That being said, the SPD also has some domestic policies in mind. First off, they would continue to support a “thorough and careful” asylum procedure. They would increase support for people who work in the field of integration and expand language courses, education, and training. They also support gender-appropriate housing solutions for women and the LGBT community.

The party says it prefers voluntary returns to forced deportations and wants to punish countries who do not accept people returning after their applications were rejected by, for instance, failing to issue visas to that country. In addition, they would end deportations to Afghanistan.

The SPD would propose a new employment-based immigration act for Germany, reflecting their view of a “modern, cosmopolitan Germany.” It would be modeled after the Canadian system, including a points system for qualified professionals who have a job offer.

Finally, the SPD would extend the right to vote to some non-German citizens: people with permanent residency would have the right to vote in local municipal elections. (Current German voting law dictates that EU citizens have the right to vote in local municipal elections, but only German citizens can vote on the state and national level. Thus, currently, all third-country nationals – any citizen of a country outside of the EU, are precluded from voting in any German election.)


FDP: Market-based Migration

Free DemocraticParty  (Freie Demokratische Partei)

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Christian Lindner- Image via Dirk Vorderstraße on Flickr http://bit.ly/2espl72 (CC by 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • The right of asylum should be available only in individual cases of persecution. People fleeing from conflict should be able to receive temporary protection only until the conflict or war is over – then they must return to their countries of origin.
  • Support the creation of a humanitarian visa after the Swiss model that would offer a person under a concrete, life-endangering threat the chance to come to Germany and avoid a dangerous journey.
  • Germany needs a new point-based immigration system
  • Dual citizenship should be allowed, up to a point

The FDP’s liberal approach to migration reflects its market-based priorities, while still allowing for asylum in clearly defined and limited cases.

While it describes the right to asylum as unassailable and opposes an “upper limit” to the numbers of people able to receive asylum, the FDP seeks to limit asylum through several proposals. First, asylum for people fleeing war should be temporary and individuals who receive protection must return as soon as the conflict has ended. Second, they would create a humanitarian visa after the “Swiss model,” according to which individuals under acute, specific threat of death could apply for a visa to come to Germany to seek asylum. (However, even for Switzerland, the chance of obtaining such a visa is incredibly small.)

“We Free Democrats want Germany to have an immigration law and finally a modern citizenship right from a single source – just like other successful immigration countries.”

In terms of migration, the FDP also calls for a new immigration system, which would allocate points based on language skills, education, and qualifications to allow people to immigrate to Germany. Under their system, refugees who meet the same level of qualifications could also apply. In addition, the FDP calls for easing bureaucracy by simplifying recognition of foreign accreditation and degrees, and to make English a working language in administrative offices– both of which would theoretically make life easier for newcomers hoping to enter the job market. Another help is that the FDP would abolish priority entrance for Germans over non-Germans to jobs and housing.

Finally, the party has specific ideas about integration. They think people with refugee status should receive individualized, “modular” integration courses suited to their specific needs and stage in the process. In addition, they propose that dual citizenship should be available, upon request, to people meeting certain conditions or by birth, up until the grandchildren of the original holder.


Die LINKE: Right to Stay for All

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Sarah Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch. Image via Die Linke on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2ew384o (CC by 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • A new ministry should be created for dealing with immigration and integration, and there should be a new ombudsman for refugee issues 
  • Anyone residing in Germany with an insecure residency status for over five years should get a right to remain
  •  End “Residenzpflicht”/residence requirement the obligation for people seeking asylum to remain in the same area for the duration of the asylum process (restriction on freedom of movement)
  • Oppose deportation in principle, and especially in certain circumstances (e.g, when a person would face a medical emergency, discrimination or homelessness in their home country)
  • Anyone born in Germany should have access to citizenship as well as the right to hold multiple nationalities
  • Permanent residents should be entitled to vote at all levels of election

Die LINKE (the Left) has a great deal to say about migration and asylum in their platform, and though much of it is simply supportive, as opposed to elaborating on a specific policy, we have drawn out some of the main policies.

Like the SPD and Greens, Die LINKE wants to fight the problems that cause people to flee their countries and offer safe pathways to Europe to prevent deaths at sea. They support fair trade and development of sending countries and reject the “dirty” Turkey deal and others proposed deals with third countries to prevent people from entering Europe.

“Good and affordable living space for everyone! To accommodate asylum seekers in emergency and mass shelters is inhuman, expensive and anti-integration.”

Unlike the other left-leaning parties however, Die LINKE unequivocally calls for an end to deportations and a right to stay (“Bleiberecht”) for all. Refugees should have access to the labor market after 3 months without limits on minimum wage, and should have access to decentralized social housing rather than mass shelters. Die LINKE would abolish the Residenzpflicht policy that restricts freedom of movement for people seeking asylum within a region or municipality. Those who have been in a precarious status for at most five years should receive a residence permit.

Die LINKE would also provide additional grounds to prevent deportation, such as gender-based grounds, allowance for people who were victims of right wing violence, and right to stay for people who would otherwise be forced into homelessness, medical emergency or discrimination in their home country. (This seems to be an explicit nod to Roma and Sinti from the Balkans, who have been subject to deportation in the past.) Die LINKE also supports establishing an ombudsman for refugee issues.

Die LINKE wants to abolish the current residence law and provide a path to legal residence and naturalization for all. People without legal residence would be granted residence and work permits, and people who have been legally residing in Germany for three years would be entitled to naturalization. In addition, all children born in Germany would be entitled to citizenship (and multiple citizenships), a model known as “birthright citizenship” (the US has such a policy.) This liberalization would also stretch to voting rights: Die LINKE supports voting rights for permanent residents at all levels of elections.

Another change they propose is to move the responsibility for migration and integration out of the Ministry of Interior and into a new federal agency. Under their plan, the federal government would also shoulder all costs associated with housing, healthcare and integration of refugees and migrants, to take financial pressure off of municipalities.

In addition, to ensure equal education for all, they would support an emergency training program for teachers, social workers, and language teachers.


AfD: (Some) Refugees Not Welcome

Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland)

AfD Bundesparteitag 23. April 2017 in Köln

Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland (image: Olaf Kosinsky / kosinsky.eu)

Main Proposals:

  • Make it easier to deport people who have committed even minor crimes, and harder to get citizenship
  • Secure German borders and enable migration only of qualified people as required, guard borders with “safety systems” including fences
  • Only offer asylum to those who can prove their identity
  • Ban family reunification and any special privileges for people from Turkey, ban dual citizenship
  • Restrict religious freedom for Muslims

In their election manifesto, the AfD prioritizes two key themes regarding immigration and asylum: first, the prevention of crimes and terrorism by non-Germans, and second, the necessity of maintaining a “recognizable” Germany by preventing migration of Africans and “Arab Muslims”.

“The goal of the AfD is self-preservation, not self-destruction of our country and people.”

In terms of crime, they are of the opinion that non-Germans are disproportionately responsible for crime and terror in Germany. They, therefore, propose new regulations making it easier to deport people for even minor crimes. In addition, they want to prevent people who have ever committed crimes from becoming German citizens by abolishing the right to citizenship. They also propose removing citizenship from those people who commit crimes within ten years of being naturalized. They would also denationalize German citizens with connection to “criminal clans”, even if this would leave the person stateless, in violation of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which Germany has been a party to since 1977. (We discussed a similar proposal that Marine Le Pen made here).

The AfD frames their migration policy as an attempt to prevent a demographic inevitability. Noting that the populations of Africa and “Arab Muslims” are increasing while Europe suffers an aging population and declining birth rate, the platform suggests that the larger, poorer population of the Global South must inevitably migrate to the richer, more sparsely populated European countries, causing migration that will destabilize Germany and leave it “unrecognizable.” Thus, it is necessary to change migration policy as a means of “self-preservation.”

What they have in mind for this change is an array of restrictive or harsh policies towards immigration that at times contradict one another. For instance, they would secure the borders to be guarded by “safety systems” including fences but allow for migration of qualified workers as needed. Asylum would still be offered to those who can prove their identity using certain “legal and technical prerequisites” that they do not elaborate on. They propose that individuals seeking asylum are not brought to Europe in the first place but transferred to third countries “after the Australian model.” They also suggest a return to the 1949 German-law version of asylum (which ironically, other parties laud as liberal.)

Under migration, AfD also has the policy that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and calls for several policies which would restrict religious freedom, for instance, banning Islamic studies programs in German universities and banning burqas. However, these policies would apply to Germans and non-Germans alike, so it is unclear why they frame this as a migration issue.


Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen: Refugees and talented immigrants welcome

Union 90/ The Greens (BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN)

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Katrin Göring-Eckardt und Cem Özdemir, Image via gruenenrw on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2vChjA5 (CC BY SA-2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • Protect an absolute right to asylum and no returns to unsafe countries
  • Increase aid funding for foreign development and conflict prevention
  • Develop safe, legal routes for people seeking asylum to prevent deaths at sea
  • Acquisition of birthright citizenship for children born to at least one parent with a residence permit
  • Enable easier, less bureaucratic family reunification
  • Develop a “talent card” that enables qualified individuals to spend a year in Germany in order to look for employment

Although the Green party generally focuses on environmental and social justice issues, they appear to have spent a lot of time developing their proposals on migration and asylum and offer- whether or not you agree with them- one of the most completed plans for both.

The Green Refugee plan consists of four points. First, they aspire to address the root causes of migration and aim to increase development aid. Second, in order to prevent people risking their lives to flee, the Greens back solutions that will prevent people from taking dangerous routes to Europe, for example, a refugee resettlement program with cooperation from UNHCR, meaning individuals would have to obtain refugee status in their country of origin or third country prior to arriving in Germany. Another possible solution would be a humanitarian visa (like FDP suggested) to make it possible for people to legally travel to Europe to seek asylum. 

Third, fair and legal decisions on asylum applications must be made as quickly as possible. They say Germany’s administrative and municipal structure was not adequately prepared for the “humanitarian challenge” of 2015- yet they do not pose concrete ways to improve the situation.

And fourth, anyone who is able to stay must receive support in learning German, finding a job and an apartment- starting from day 1. In the case of those who cannot stay, the Greens support voluntary returns over deportations and absolutely oppose returning people to unsafe countries such as Afghanistan.

“The aging society and the skilled labor force show that Germany is dependent on immigration in the long term. However, the current law is too complicated and makes immigration more difficult.”

The Greens wants to update the immigration law via “The Green Immigration Act” to meet the demands of a country of immigration. They would introduce a “Talent card” (Talentkarte) which allows qualified professionals one year to search for work in Germany. A commission would determine how many cards are allocated, and which qualifications entitle one to a card, including German language skills, possession of insurance and other skills. They would also expand the number of student visas and make it easier to formally recognize foreign degrees and qualifications.

Finally, they would make family reunification easier and less bureaucratic, as they argue that a key to integration is feeling embedded in one’s family.


Sources and Further Reading
Bundestagwahl: Half of voters are undecided, Zeit Online, Aug. 23, 2017 [German]
All the 2017 party platforms in one place
For a Germany that is good to live in: Election Program for the CDU and CSU 2017, CDU [Deutsch, English summary, video version available]
It’s time for more justice: Election Program for the SPD 2017, SPD [Deutsch, video available]
A new way of thinking. FDP Election Program 2017, FDP [Deutsch, English summary available]
Humanitarian Visas, Swiss Refugee Council
Social. Just. Peace. For all. Die Linke Election Program 2017, Die Linke, [Deutsch,  summaries in English +12 other languages, video, GSL, Audio, Braille available.]
Program for Germany: AFD Election Program 2017, AFD, [Deutsch, Audio version available]
UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness, OHCHR, 1961
The future is made of courage: Green Election Program 2017, Die Grüne, [Deutsch, Audio, GSL available]
Featured Image: German Bundestag by Lars Steffens on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0) http://bit.ly/2x4AsLf
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Can the SPD’s Martin Schulz own migration in the upcoming German election?

The German election is coming in September and campaign season is finally beginning in earnest. German campaigns are not known for their vitriol, but it can be difficult to attract attention from voters when the two most popular parties (the centre-right CDU/ CSU and the centre-left SPD) are also coalition partners who have backed each other’s position on most major issues for years. The SPD is at a distinctive disadvantage: it’s been in government leadership for years as junior coalition partner to the CDU, so the two’s policies are seen as much the same, and the solid, inevitable-feeling lead of the CDU headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel makes it hard for voters to imagine something other than the status quo. At this point the question may be for the SPD, how can this election seem more like a contest of ideas and not a run-up to a foregone conclusion?

The first step was to get a new face. The Social Democrats were given a big boost when Martin Schulz, the popular two-time President of the European Parliament, announced his return to German politics as Chancellor candidate for the 2017 parliamentary elections. As seen in this Ipsos voter intention poll from the end of February 2017, the SPD appeared to have made significant ground on the CDU in the wake of Schulz’s announcement.

February:

“Which party would you vote for, if next Sunday were the election?”

Ipsos_Public_Affairs_Wahlforschung_26-02-2017

July:

Ipsos_PI_Sonntagsfrage_16-07-2017

As can be seen from the latest poll from mid-July, this headwind appears to have disappeared, with the CDU consolidating an even stronger lead with gains from some of the smaller parties (such as AfD) as well. As the SPD has been seeing its momentum dissipate, Schulz has been trying to find ways to distance and differentiate his party from their coalition partners, and it appears that he has started to thinks that one of the best ways to do this is to take a bold stance on migration.

A European Solution

In  late July Schulz traveled to Italy, where he visited a home for refugees in Catania and met with the Italian PM to discuss the “refugee crises.” At the same time he did a host of interviews on the subject,  which some in the media hailed as a “swipe” at Angela Merkel.

If we don’t want a repeat of what we experienced in 2015 then things have to change.

But what kind of changes is Schulz actually proposing? Taking a look at his announced “solidarity” plan for refugee politics, its clear that Schulz still has his head at the EU level. Here are two main proposals:

Hit countries that refuse people seeking asylum in their pocketbooks.

The European Commission is currently pursuing infringement proceedings against three Visegrad states that have categorically refused to accept redistribution of people seeking asylum from Italy and Greece under a short-term plan, as we have previously explained in detail (see: Sympathy for the Visegrad Group?). Schulz and the SPD would go about convincing naysayers in a more direct way: states who don’t cooperate with EU-wide redistribution (or quotas) would lose access to EU funds. Those who do would receive compensation and benefits. This, Schulz writes, would be carried out through a “solidarity pact.”

In the Solidarity Pact, it must be clear that countries which refuse solidarity on important issues must face financial disadvantages and can no longer count on the full financial solidarity of Germany and the other countries. Solidarity is not a one-way street.

Naturally, as Chancellor of Germany Schulz would no longer have the position at the European Commission to effect such a plan directly. He could (and would) however be able to veto EU financial plans if such conditions aren’t met. Given the legal battles already underway with countries such as Slovakia and Hungary, this would set up a slightly more direct confrontation between Germany and countries rejecting redistribution plans. On the other hand, countries like Italy, Greece and Spain, who stand to benefit the most from such assistance, would likely support a more confrontative approach.

Create legal pathways to immigrate to Europe

Europe is an immigrant continent. In order to maintain our economic power, we are dependent on immigration, especially by well-qualified specialists. A European immigration law should create common rules for this. We urgently need an opportunity for regulated immigration.

Schulz argues that economic pressure and deaths at sea from people seeking asylum can be reduced if there are normal, legal pathways to immigrate to Europe. Speaking in Italy, he reportedly named some examples: “Canada has legal immigration, the United States has it, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand – they all have immigration rules.” This idea also isn’t new, but framed as a European solution raises the question of how, as Chancellor of Germany, Schulz could hope to bring about this massive policy shift. Would Germany first reframe its immigration policy more along the lines of Canada or the US, for example? Or would such a change only be welcomed on the European level?

Similarly, he suggests getting rid of the (EU-wide) Dublin regulation, which, among other things, allows for countries to send people seeking asylum back to the first European country of entry to have their application evaluated. Is Germany going to abandon Dublin first?

Can Schulz zero in on Germany when it comes to migration?

Its clear that what Schulz is proposing aims to tackle the issue of migration and asylum in the long term, on the European playing field. Tying European funding to willingness to participate in distribution scenarios, getting rid of the Dublin regulation, and starting a European wide legal immigration scheme are all hugely ambitious (and wildly controversial) goals, that moreover do not take place in the German domestic sphere. The future Chancellor of Germany plays a huge role in European policy formation, but decisions like these take years of hammering out details and forcing consensus, and do not hinge entirely on the suggestions of one country, no matter how large a role that country has played in the “refugee crises” in the past.

On the other hand, the issues of migration and asylum are inherently international, European issues. Its not incorrect to suggest that Germany can hardly effect changes on this subject alone. But without a domestic angle, these solutions feel aspirational and unrealistic. Angela Merkel is a well-known proponent of a European-wide approach to accepting refugees, and for all her clout very little progress has been made. Arguably, a European-wide solution is further away than ever.

Perhaps if Schulz really wants to stand out, he needs to suggest grounded, practical, German policies that have the potential to be realized in the short term. Reforming the German immigration system to provide more legal pathways to immigrate is a concrete example. In contrast to Merkel’s plodding style, some quick fixes might be in order if Schulz wants to regain momentum and convince voters that not every change requires waiting on Europe.

 

Sources and Further Reading
Voter Intention, IPSOS Sunday Polls
Why is Martin Schulz traveling to Italy?  Deutsche Welle (German), July 2017
German election WARS: Martin Schulz attacks Merkel on migration in explosive interview, Express, July 2017
Ensure a solidarity-based refugee policy in Europe, MartinSchulz.de
Towards a solidarity refugee policy in Europe, SPD.de
Schulz turns to immigration to revive flagging campaign, Reuters, July 2017
What is the Dublin Regulation?, European Commission
Asylum in Europe: The Dublin Regulation, UNHCR (pdf)
Header image via Parti Socialiste on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2wOcK1t (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)