The year begins with continuing concerns about the influx of Romanians and Bulgarians, especially Roma and Sinti, into Western European cities. Particularly the German and British governments express alarm at the potential costs to social security systems, as they warn about “Armutseinwanderung” (“poverty immigration”) and “benefits tourism,” respectively. Particularly the German and British governments express alarm at the potential costs to social security systems, as they warn about “Armutseinwanderung” (“poverty immigration”) and “benefit tourism,” respectively. Hans-Peter Friedrich, German Minister of the Interior, argues against extending the Schengen Agreement to Romania and Bulgaria. Critics point out that a change in restrictions of movement would have less of an effect than anticipated, as the majority of people willing to migrate have already done so, and as similar instances in the past – Poland being a case in point – have shown. Moreover, statistics reveal that fewer immigrants make use of social security benefits than Friedrich’s rhetoric suggests. While the current debate about “Armutseinwanderung” is thus to some extent characterized by questionable assertions, populist remarks, and disagreements about federal and regional responsibilities, the recent influx of Roma and Sinti – sometimes as whole villages – to Western European cities presents real challenges for local authorities, even prompting them to travel abroad to find solutions, as well as for other groups that rely on limited social welfare resources.
In January, the German feuilletons debate anew the issue of racist language in children’s literature. The fierce discussion follows remarks by Kristina Schröder, Minister of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, who admitted to changing words such as “Negerkönig” when reading her daughter classics like Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. While newer editions of Lindgren’s work already contain only politically correct language, older editions as well as other popular children’s books are currently being reviewed and edited accordingly. The debate is further fuelled by Otfried Preußler’s long-awaited agreement to such changes in his own work. A survey shows that Germans are divided about the necessity of editing words such as “Negerlein,” and that the higher educated a survey participant was, the more likely s/he opposed the replacement of original words.
On February 22, Joachim Gauck calls for greater European integration in a passionate speech about the greatness of the European Union and being European. While he addresses the current crisis and people’s frustrations, he also makes an ardent case for a European identity and emphasizes Germany’s commitment to the project.
The Spiegel echoes Joachim Gauck’s Europe speech in its feature “Die neuen Gastarbeiter” (“The New Guest Workers”), which discusses the current wave of young, highly educated people moving from Southern and Eastern European countries to Germany. The Spiegel points out the ways in which this recent generation of immigrants differs from the guest workers of the 1950s and 1960s, the role European identity plays in people’s daily life, and the reasons why Germany has to make more of an effort to make these newcomers stay.
In March, prominent German rock bands such as Die Ärzte and Kraftklub boycott the well-known Echo music prize, because they oppose the nomination of Frei.Wild, a German-speaking band from Southern Tyrol. Frei.Wild has been criticized for promoting right-wing ideals and for their connections to Neo-Nazis. Since nominations are solely based on sales and charts rankings, the Echo commission initially refuses to withdraw the nomination. However, Frei.Wild’s name is eventually taken off the list, as organizers hope to avoid being drawn into a fierce discussion about the political orientation of the band.
Much of March is dominated by the controversy about journalist accreditation for the upcoming trial of the “Terror Group National Socialist Underground” (“Terrorgruppe Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund” (NSU)). The court allocates available places based on the time of request, which results in the absence of any Turkish press representatives and a scarcity of international media. Requests to simply add additional seats for Turkish media outlets and the Turkish ambassador are rejected by authorities, even when the German federal government voices its discontent about the situation. Consequently, the Turkish Sabah newspaper takes the issue to court and wins at the Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht). In April, the court thus re-allocates places, which are now divided among national and international media, by lot. Big German newspapers that fail to receive a spot are forced to work together with smaller news outlets to cover the proceedings. Later on in the year, the Bundestag investigation committee “Terror Group National Socialist Underground” (“Untersuchungsausschuss Terrorgruppe Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund/ NSU-Untersuchungsausschuss”) publishes its final report on the handling of the killings. Sebastian Edathy, the person in charge of the committee, says that a “historically unequalled disaster” took place during the police investigations.
In April, the United Nation Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) chastises the German legal system for its handling of the Sarrazin case in 2009. While German courts dismissed the complaint of the Turkish Association of Berlin-Brandenburg, which argued that Sarrazin’s statements were racist, the CERD finds that the court in question did not adhere to international law.
The U.S.-based Pew Research Center finds that many Europeans no longer trust the European Union. Germany, however, proves to be a striking exception, with Germans feeling better than other Europeans about the economy, the EU, and European economic integration.
In May, the Federal Statistical Office (Statistische Bundesamt) reports that the number of immigrants coming to Germany is as high as it was last in 1995, and that the rise is a direct result of the Southern European economic crisis. Earlier in the year, reports also showed that more illegal immigrants than in previous years came to Germany. The Federal Statistical Office points out that their research does not reveal if and how long these new immigrants will stay in Germany. Concern about long-term plans of immigrants and their continued presence in Germany increasingly pervades the public discourse, as many worry about Germany’s declining population, its effect on the economy and social security system, and Germany’s struggle to convince people to stay. A recent study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung (Bertelsmann Foundation) outlines the benefits of immigration and recommends that Germany promote migration more strongly, especially from non-European countries and of skilled migrants. The necessity of immigration is further underscored when the data gathered in the 2011 census reveals that Germany’s population is actually smaller than previously thought: “The nation shrinks,” Spiegel writes, reporting that approximately 1.5 million fewer people live in Germany than believed. Many are surprised by the announcement that only 6.2 million, rather than 7.3, foreigners reside in the country, and that most (9 million) of the 15 million inhabitants with a so-called immigration background have German citizenship.
In May, both the Islam Conference (Islamkonferenz) and the Integration Summit (Integrationsgipfel) are criticized for failing to accomplish their respective goals. While the future of the Islam Conference remains uncertain, members of the Integration Summit express their frustration about the continuing low number of immigrants working in the public sector.
The end of May marks the beginning of months-long protests against plans supported by the Turkish government to restructure Istanbul’s Gezi Park and Taksim Square. Opposition to the new shopping center soon turns into broader demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s politics, especially when protesters face violent backlash from Turkish police. Erdoğan’s uncompromising response draws international criticism and causes German Turks to debate their identity and their role in the conflict. In Cologne, over 30,000 people gather to show their support for the protesters, and some German Turks join the demonstrations in Turkey. The debate in the German media heats up when well-known politician Claudia Roth (Green Party) is caught in the middle of the protests during a visit to Istanbul and suffers injuries from teargas employed by Turkish police.
A study by the Council of Experts of German Foundations for Integration and Migration (Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration) shows that migrants who decide against enrolling their children in public daycare would make use of their – as of this year – legal right to obtain childcare the year prior to elementary school if the German system were of better quality, if intercultural approaches were utilized more, and if the costs were lower. The child care subsidy for stay-at-home parents (“Betreuungsgeld”) is another reason young children are kept at home.
The plight of asylum seekers in Germany draws the public’s attention repeatedly this year. In June, approximately 50 asylum seekers go on hunger strike in Munich to avoid deportation and to receive permanent residence status. The camp of protesters, located at the downtown Rindermarkt, is forcefully shut down by police a month later. At the same time, protests against a new housing facility for refugees in Berlin Hellersdorf causes further controversy and ignites a public debate about the increasing number of asylum seekers in Germany. The Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police Office) reports that the number of attacks on housing facilities of asylum seekers is twice as high as last year. Both European policies on refugees and the measures undertaken against asylum seekers by individual EU member states are increasingly criticized. The relationship between Germany and Italy becomes slightly strained in view of Italian authorities’ questionable treatment of refugees and Germany’s unwillingness to change its own approach. The situation becomes an explosive political issue when Hamburg’s mayor, Olaf Scholz, criticizes Italy’s practice of giving refugees money to travel further north to Germany and questions Germany’s failure to provide long-term prospects to asylum seekers.
At the end of July, the European Union institutes proceedings against Germany for its language laws, which allegedly break European laws.
At the beginning of August, the British National Archive publishes documents revealing that, in 1982, former chancellor Helmut Kohl privately admitted his hope to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that at least half the Turks living in Germany would eventually leave the country. He believed Turkish culture to be vastly different from German culture and Turks to be unwilling to integrate. Kohl defends his statements by pointing to the larger debate at the time.
On September 18, literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, nicknamed Germany’s “Pope of Literature” (“Literaturpapst”) for his often controversial, yet largely popular reviews of German literature, died in Frankfurt.
At the beginning of October, a boat with over 500 migrants from Africa sinks near Lampedusa, Italy, once again. The tragedy, which has occurred on a smaller scale numerous times in the last few years and which repeats itself mere days after, ignites debate over European refugee policy and Europe’s handling of migration across the Mediterranean Sea. Hans-Peter Friedrich, German Minister of the Interior, rejects increasing calls for fundamentally changing European and German approaches, arguing that “the reproach that Europe is sealing off its borders [against immigrants] is plainly wrong.”