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Politics

SPD's Martin Schulz outlines new vision for integration in Germany

The Social Democrats' leader has warned of the "fatal mistake" of mixing the debate on integration with security policy. Weeks ahead of key elections, the SPD has tried to distance itself from Angela Merkel's CDU.

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Schulz slams Merkel's migration policies

Martin Schulz, who heads the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), laid out a new vision for Germany's integration policy, a hot topic ahead of key federal elections slated for September.

During a lecture at the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research, Schulz lashed out at his rival German Chancellor Angela Merkel's integration policy, saying debate around the subject should lead to more cohesion, not more division.

Read more: Germany's oldest political party: the Social Democrat SPD

"We must ask what is wrong when young people, who are born here, cheer in our stadiums for a leader like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or succumb to the seductive extremist ideology of the so-called 'Islamic State,'" Schulz said. "This should put us in a state of unrest."

'Fatal mistake'

Schulz criticized Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for campaigning on a platform that mixes the debate on integration with security policy, calling it a "fatal mistake." He also singled out Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere as the responsible minister for adopting such a "dangerous" position.

In the event of an electoral victory, Schulz said he would shift the responsibility of implementing the government's immigration and integration policy from the Interior Ministry to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the family affairs ministry, currently led by the SPD.

"We want to bundle the responsibility together and connect it with a strong ministry," said Schulz.

Managing a crisis

Since nominating Schulz as its candidate for the chancellery, the SPD has struggled to put forth a unique vision for immigration and integration policy in Germany. In February, the SPD's parliamentary group chairman, Thomas Oppermann, spoke in favor of sending refugees arriving to Europe on boats back to North Africa, echoing similar remarks from the ruling CDU.

"In order to fight human trafficking gangs more successfully, we have to deprive them of the grounds on which they conduct their business by returning refugees saved in the Mediterranean to North Africa and attending to their needs there," Oppermann wrote in an editorial published by the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Read more: Germany's Angela Merkel wows voters on opponent's home turf with predictability

More than 1 million migrants have entered Germany since the peak of the migration crisis in 2015, many of them fleeing war and extreme poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The number of migrants entering the country has dropped significantly since the so-called Balkan route was closed, partly due to an EU deal with Turkey that allowed the repatriation of one migrant from the EU to Turkey in exchange for each Syrian refugee the bloc accepted from Turkish camps.

Since then, Germany has provided social welfare services to thousands of migrants, including housing, health care and education.

ls/rc (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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