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Germany

Destination Deutschland... No Thanks

As politicians wrangle over a floundering immigration debate, the flow of foreigners heading towards Germany slows to a trickle.

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Most of the foreigners living in Germany hail from Turkey

For a while on Wednesday the heated debate over immigration fell silent as the commissioner for foreign immigrants, Marieluise Beck, made public the annual report on the situation of foreigners in Germany.

The figures were sobering to say the least.

The number of foreigners living in Germany increased by a mere 86,000 in the year 2000. The nominal figure has hardly changed in the last couple of years.

Towards the end of the year 2000, almost 7,3 million foreigners were living in Germany that has a total population of 82 million. Foreigners make for 8,9 percent of the total population.

Most foreigners have become "locals"

Beck admits that the figures are high as compared to several other European countries, but blames Germany's restrictive immigration process for sluggish growth.

She also believes that most of the foreigners who have been living for decades in the country have "long become locals".

She estimates that a third of the total number of foreigners have been living in Germany for more than 20 years, while more than half have resided in the country longer than a decade.

About 1.6 million children are born in Germany as foreigners. Yet stagnant statistics were boosted by a nationality reform that took effect on January 1, 2000, which enabled children born in Germany to foreign parents to automatically get German passports.

The 2 million strong Turkish population makes for the largest group of foreign nationals in Germany, forming 27,4 percent of the foreign population.

They are followed by about 660,000 citizens of former Yugoslavian republics, constituting 9,1 percent of the foreign population. About 25,7 percent of the total number of foreigners living in Germany are EU citizens.

Immigration a necessity

Germany, with its fast-falling birth rate and ageing population, needs immigration, says Marieluise Beck, a member of the liberal Green Party.

She warns that if immigration is stemmed, the present German population of 82 million may shrink to 59 million by 2050. That would have catastrophic consequences for the economy and social system.

She has now called upon all political parties to return to a sensible debate on immigration and desist from making it an election issue in the upcoming elections in September.

But that's easier said than done.

Conservatives have had enough

Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian premier of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the leading opposition candidate against Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his Social Democrats, is likely to make the immigration debate one of the main planks of the election campaign.

In a speech in Passau on Ash Wednesday he accused the governing "Red-Green" coalition (Social Democrats and Greens) of trying to change Germany's national identity through immigration.

"Whoever refers to Germany as a general immigration destination, is going against the wishes and hopes of most people," he said.

More foreigners = more jobs

But Schröder's coalition accuses the Christian Social Union of lackin sincere interest in phasing out the immigration law. The CSU and its Christian Democratic partners, so SchröderÄ's loyalists say, care mostly about voters' fears and cashing in on the debate for partisan gains during the election.

Stoiber's argument, that Germany's high unemployment rate cuts its need for foreign workers, is too "simplistic" according to many economists, and German business has continued to support the immigration law in the face of 1,7 million unfilled jobs.

Marieluise Beck argues that the arrival of highly qualified immigrants creates more employment opportunities for the local population.

In fact, to believe the numbers, Stoiber's own state of Bavaria profited more than any other, from the government's Green Card initiative.