Immigrant groups are critical as Chancellor Merkel's Integration Summit meets for the sixth time. They want to see the institution making a concrete difference.
When the sixth round in the Integration Summit kicks off on Tuesday (28.05.2013) in Berlin, Aydan Özoguz's expectations will be limited.
"They won't say much wrong - but it won't do much good either," she says. Özoguz is integration spokeswoman of the main German opposition party, the Social Democrats, and she'll be present when migrants' organizations, churches and businesses meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel at her invitation to talk about the integration of people with an immigrant background. "It will be a pleasant afternoon tea party," she adds.
This year's main issue is access to employment, and the meeting will also be drawing up its conclusions about the National Action Plan for Integration - an ambitious project started last year. Under the plan, the participants committed themselves to 400 measures to promote integration with projects such as language and integration courses.
'Tea party' or real effort?
According to Merkel, much has been achieved since she issued her first invitation in 2006. In her latest weekend video podcast, she said Germany has launched many initiatives. The dialogue between the federal government, the states, local government and migrants' organizations, she said, had put "many things under the spotlight of which we hadn't taken so much notice before" - issues like the role of immigrants in the media. It was a matter of slowly removing prejudice from society, bit by bit.
Michael Frieser, the integration spokesman of the governing Christian Democrats, agrees that the balance has been positive. "It's not possible to have a more direct influence on politics," he says. Germany was the only country which had made the effort to get all those involved around a table.
"The summit has led to a change in attitude in Germany towards integration and equal opportunities," says Frieser, although there were still hurdles to overcome, especially in the fields of vocational training and the job market. For example, employers with an immigrant background need to be encouraged to create more places for training young people.
'We like each other and sit together'
Kenan Kolat, head of the Berlin-based Turkish Community in Germany, agrees that much has been launched over the past years but he's disappointed by the summits, even though he described the idea when it began as "historic."
"We like each and we sit together," he says, but not much comes of it. Of course the government can't take on all the ideas which come up, "but such an institution must be able to be assertive." That's what he said he wanted from the start, but the government didn't agree.
Kolat insists that the meetings must deal with political issues. "A future summit - what I prefer to call, an anti-racism summit - must be able to deal with political events in Germany and make proposals about them." He sees "institutional and structural racism" in Germany - a clear reference to the killings by the National Socialist Underground and the failures of the security services in their investigations.
Interesting coffee breaks
Ahead of the latest summit, the Turkish Community has put forward a proposal for a law which will be presented to Chancellor Merkel during the meeting. The draft is intended to promote integration with concrete proposals, such as the introduction of dual citizenship and the establishment of "diversity officers" in companies and public service authorities, to look after the interests of people with immigrant backgrounds.
Özoguz also regrets the fact that the summits have not led to concrete legal proposals. "The integration summit must be taken more seriously" and have more influence on the work of the individual ministries, which ought to provide regular reports on their work in the field of integration.
But, she says, the summit tended to stay on a superficial level as result of its structure. "It's the ministers who get to talk instead of the people really involved in society." The really interesting discussions took place in the coffee breaks, she said.
Frieser denies that. "For the active politicians, it's a day for them to listen to the others," he says. One has to take on what the representatives of the communities are saying - including the criticism.