The “refugee crisis” is the definitive topic of 2015. Click here for a detailed chronology.
In early January, amidst a debate surrounding Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), the Council for Migration calls for a “policy committee for this country of immigrants which would develop a concept applicable for the whole society.” The Council calls for a new definition for the concept “We Germans” and for a stronger emphasis on the German history of immigration in lesson plans. According to the Council, this is absolutely necessary, insofar as Pegida demonstrates to what degree German society is divided on this topic: “A rift runs through society: one in two people supports the growing diversity, but one in three calls for a more robust national identity and thereby exclude immigrants.”
On the 7th and 8th of January, seventeen people die in Islamist attacks on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket. Angela Merkel travels to Paris for the funeral march. As a reaction to the attacks, many caricatures are published, with some newspapers (e.g. Tagesspiegel, FAZ, taz) even publishing Charlie Hebdos caricatures of Mohammed. An arson attack on the Hamburger Morgenpost appears to be related to the publishing of caricatures, yet, months later, no concrete motive can be confirmed. The attack renews the debate on the boundaries of humor, critiques of religion and racism.
According to the “Religion Monitor” published by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the majority of Muslims living in Germany agree with societal values such as democracy and plurality. This same study finds that over half of the non-Muslim respondents consider Islam a threat. Islamophobia, which has steadily increased in preceding years and permeates all socio-economic classes, represents a roadblock for integration efforts. Another Bertelsmann Foundation survey on German Willkommenskultur (“welcoming culture”) mirrors these results in other respects as well. In comparison to 2012, German society has become more accepting of immigrants and the call for a “welcoming culture” is renewed. According to the results of this survey, East Germans are more skeptical of immigrants than West Germans. In total, 97% of the respondents expect that immigrants will integrate into society.
During a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Chancellor Angela Merkel repeats former Federal President Christian Wulff’s sentiment, expressed four years prior: “Islam belongs in Germany—and that is true, I’m of this opinion as well.” At the same time, Merkel emphasizes that she nonetheless does not advocate for Turkey’s full EU-Membership. At the end of June, the Chancellor strengthens her own statement on Islam’s place in Germany, as she, for the first time, officially participates in Ramadan’s breaking of the fast.
In Dresden, both Pegida’s planned demonstration and the consequent counter-protests January 19th are cancelled due to threats of Islamist terrorism. The day before, police on site issue a prohibition of all protests for security reasons. The targeting of the Pegida meeting points concretely to further warnings of potential terrorist attacks on German train stations, to which the authorities react with an increase in the number of patrolling police units. Just over a month later, the Braunschweig carnival procession also does not take place due to risk of terrorist attacks.
In February, political scientist Werner J. Patzelt of the Techniche Universität Dresden publishes the first academic study of who Pegida demonstrators are and what they believe. Among Patzelt’s findings are that the average Pegida demonstrator’s politics are right of center but not openly fascist, and that the more anti-Islam and anti-immigrant they are, the more disenfranchised they feel from the “established parties.” Reflecting on Patzelt’s study and others, Karl-Heinz Reuband observes that the majority of Pegida demonstrators are male and the average age is consistently in the range of 44-48. One of Reuband’s more interesting conclusions, not addressed by Patzelt’s study, is that people with college educations are actually overrepresented at the rallies, with advanced degree holders even more disproportionately represented.
The Council of German Foundations for Integration and Immigration (SVR) analyzes the migration patterns of German emigrants and returnees in the study “Mobile Internationally. Motives, Parameters and Consequences of the Emigrations and Returns of German Citizens” (“International Mobil. Motive, Rahmenbedinungen und Folgen der Aus- und Rückwanderung deutscher Staatsbürger”). More Germans are found to emigrate than to return. Even still, the study comes to the conclusion that the recent trends in mobility indicate a “brain circulation” and not a “brain drain,” since most emigrants do not plan to stay abroad for long. As a motive, discontentment plays a decisive role for both emigrants and returnees.
In the middle of March, the Cabinet of Germany (Bundesregierung) presents the study “Schoolbook Study. Migration and Integration” (“Schulbuchstudie. Migration und Integration”). The authors complain that German textbooks display mostly stereotypical representations of immigrants (the refugee, the criminal, etc.) and hardly mention everyday immigrant life in Germany.
At the beginning of April, published data of the Cabinet of Germany (Bundesregierung) shows that the number of foreigners that are deported from Germany has steadily decreased in recent years.
The literary project “Belief, Love, Hope. Messages from the Christian West” (“Glaube, Liebe, Hoffnung. Nachrichten aus dem christlichen Abendland”) by Gregor Weichbrodt and Hannes Bajohr collects recent comments off of the Pegida Facebook page. “As the supposed defenders of the Christian West are confronted with Pauline virtues stemming from praises of love, we let them articulate alone, what they believe, love and hope,” the two authors explain. “The fact that Germany is loved above all else is less surprising than the comments’ wishes, marked by fantasies of revolution and violence.”
At the end of April, the SVR publishes the annual report for 2015 Countries of Immigration: Germany in International Comparison (Unter Einwanderungsländern: Deutschland im internationalen Vergleich). The survey, conducted annually since 2009, praises Germany, as the country keeps up with traditional immigrant destinations like Canada or the USA. The main reason for this is immigration for employment reasons, since Germany has become a role model in this respect. Nonetheless, Germany still has work to do in developing a comprehensive immigration plan. Coming to similar conclusions, the Migration Policy Group publishes MIPEX 2015 (Migrant Integration Policy Index) in June: the index compares politics of integration among 38 countries, Germany reaching tenth place. The MIPEX shows that Germany has substantially improved the situation for immigrants in recent years. Integration becomes more successful in the employment sector, accompanying a concurrent improvement in public disposition toward immigration. And yet, immigrants have inadequate legal resources with regards to discrimination nor sufficient access to health care services.
The study “Faith in European Project Reviving. But Most Say Rise of Eurosceptic Parties Is a Good Thing,” published in early June by the American Pew Research Center, comes to the conclusion that trust in the European Union is to have risen again. The over 6000 respondents, coming from six different participating nations, regard the economic situation for their respective country as positive. The majority of the survey participants saw the increase in so-called “euro-sceptic” parties as positive as well, since they addressed topics that traditional parties normally ignored.
On the 4th of July, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) voted in Frauke Petry (~60%) as the first party representative. Petry thereby engages in a months-long power struggle with Bernd Lucke, who only receives 38 percent of the vote. Lucke’s departure moves the AfD further toward the far right of the political spectrum.
In the middle of July, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with the Palestinian refugee Reem Sahwil causes tempers to flare. During a town hall (Bürgerdialog), a discussion arises between Reem and Merkel: the Chancellor points to the German right to asylum and reacts to the tears of the twelve year old, who would like to stay in Germany, by awkwardly laying a hand on the latter’s shoulder. Merkel’s response provokes strong reactions under the hashtag #merkelpets (#merkelstreichelt). Further controversy arises over the fact that the government retrospectively changes the report of the incident.
In July, it is revealed that two brothers of the murdered Hatan Sürücü are sued for abiding and abetting. The “Honor-murder” (“Ehrenmord”) of Hatan Sürücü on February 7th, 2005, was committed by her youngest brother, who was deported to Turkey in 2014 after a prison sentence of multiple years. The revelations trigger an intense discussion on integration in Germany.
The first half of the year is dominated by the persistent debt crisis in Greece. On July 15th, Greek Parliament votes for the EU’s third aid package, while the German Federal Parliament (Bundestag) approves the aid package on August 19th. After a months-long struggle, bankruptcy of Greece and a would-be Grexit is prevented at the last second. During the negotiations over additional financial aid and the demands of debt-holders, the tone between Greece and Germany intensified.
At the beginning of August, the Federal Bureau of Statistics (Statistische Bundesamt) publishes its findings on the number of immigrants in Germany. One in five has a migrant background and 10.9 million people immigrated of their own accord. The OECD and EU-commision’s study “Indicators of Immigration in 2015,” published a month earlier, shows that Germany performs badly in many branches of integration politics in comparison to other countries.
On August 21st, the exhibition “From Kuzorra to Özil. The History of Soccer and Immigration in Ruhrt” (“Von Kuzorra bis Özil. The History of Soccer and Immigration in Ruhrt”) opens in Bochum.
On October 3rd, Germany celebrates 25 years of unity. In his address, which centered heavily around the refugee crisis, Federal President Gauck emphasizes that the new, difficult task approaching Germany is the integration of refugees and recent immigrants.
On October 5th, the ARD broadcasts the film adaptation of Lake Akgün’s Aunt Semra in Meatloafland—Stories from my Turkish-German Family (Tante Semra in Leberkäseland—Geschichten aus meiner türkish-deutschen Familie). The film depicts the story of the communist Kemalist Latife, who moves to Germany with her Turkish family and confronts German provincial life with her emancipated lifestyle. The film questions typical narrative patterns concerning German-Turkish immigration history.
On October 17th, a 44-year-old man attacks Henriette Reker, who is running independently for high official posts in Köln, and four other people with a knife at a CDU information stand. Reker, who lies in an artificial coma, wins the vote a day later. The culprit, coming from the political right and naming refugee politics as his motive, is sentenced a year later to 14 years in prison.
On November 13th, Paris is shaken by multiple terrorist attacks. The target is the Stade de France, in which a friendly soccer match between Germany and France is taking place. Above all, the news coverage by ARD and ZDF is discussed. Only four days later, a similar match between Germany and the Netherlands in Hannover is cancelled due to a bomb threat. The suspicion that perpetrators are registered in Germany as refugees is proved as false, but security concerns about the supposed existence of falsified passports persist.
A court in Göttinger rules for the deportation of two Romani families that have lived in Germany for 17 years and whose children have been born in Germany. The court grounds its decision in the lack of infrastructure for integration and in the fact that Kosovo has in the meantime become a safe home country.
In early December, the extreme-right Front National shocks Europe with a victory in the first round of the French regional elections. Nonetheless, Marine Le Pen’s party loses considerably in the second round. The elections generate anxiety concerning the stability of Europe.
The Green Party’s inquiry to the Cabinet of Germany (Bundesregierung) confirms that burqa wearers do not pose an increased security risk, according to government authorities. The inquiry serves a response to the increasingly louder demands of CDU and CSU members for a ban on facial veils—even for tourists—in Germany.
At the end of December, the Institute for Labour Market and Employment Research (Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung) publishes a report on wage adjustment for immigrants. Immigrants receive on average considerably lower wages than German employees. The study also demonstrates that female immigrants profit from ethnic networks, while the same networks affect male immigrants negatively.