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Aydan Özoguz
Image: picture alliance/Sven Simon

Portrait of Aydan Özoguz

Michael Hartlep / sgb
December 17, 2013

The SPD's Aydan Özoguz is the first politician of Turkish origin to hold a top post in Germany. As integration minister, she gives a voice to the country's many migrants - but she has not been without controversy.


The interview requests are piling up on her desk, but Aydan Özoguz wants to wait. She only wants to talk to the media after her official swearing-in as Minister for Migration, Refugees and Integration on Tuesday. It will be a first for Germany, because with Özoguz a woman of Turkish origin and a Muslim will have taken a seat at the top level of government for the first time.

SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel said he was "extremely" pleased with the decision, announced on December 15 at party headquarters in Berlin. He called her appointment a clear signal to the estimated 16 million people in Germany who are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Meteoric career

The 46-year-old can look back on a remarkable career. Her parents were Turkish guest workers in Hamburg. After high school, Özoguz studied English, Spanish and business administration, and became a German citizen in 1989. She began her political career in 2001 as a member of the Hamburg government. Throughout her career, she made an issue of integrating Germany's large Turkish community into German society - and continued to do so when she was elected to parliament in 2009 and 2011, rising to become deputy party chair.

Sigmar Gabriel presents the SPD cabinet members
SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel presented Özoguz at the party's Willy-Brandt-Haus in BerlinImage: Reuters

Her appointment as Minister for Migration, Refugees and Integration in the grand coalition of the center-right CDU and the center-left SPD still came as something of a surprise. For the last few years, the post had been in the hands of the CDU's Maria Böhmer. Again and again Özoguz had sharply criticized her predecessor, saying she was too hesitant and uncommitted to the integration policy. Özoguz now wants to "set a new course."

Positive reactions from allies

The Turkish Community in Germany welcomed the "historic" decision to appoint a woman of Turkish origin. Chairman Kenan Kolat told Deutsche Welle that while Özoguz was well-versed in integration matters, there was a danger she might have to distance herself from her Turkish origins. Kolat therefore called for other ministries to be awarded to people with a migration background.

The refugee-rights organization Pro Asyl called the decision "wise." Chairman Günter Burkhardt said it was good the ministry would be run by a Social Democrat, as a counterweight to the CDU-led Interior Ministry. He expressed the hope that Özoguz would allow more refugees into Germany than her predecessor had, and would grant them more rights in a stronger legal framework.

Berlin refugee village, Kreuzberg
Many asylum seekers face an uncertain future in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Family ties

But the new minister is not without her controversies. Two of her brothers run an Islamist website with close ties to the Iranian government. Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, has kept the site under observation for the past decade, thanks to its virulently anti-Israeli, anti-American and anti-democratic positions and the Özoguz brothers' association with Holocaust deniers and other extremists. Aydan Özoguz has distanced herself from her brothers' activities.

In 2011, she led calls for Muslims to boycott a government-sponsored Islam conference meant to combat extremism, because she believed chairman Hans-Peter Friedrich only wanted to use it to boost his image as a tough, no-nonsense politician. Özoguz therefore demanded the removal of the federal interior minister as the conference's chairman. The move was met with opposition from the head of the largest Turkish Muslim organization in Germany.

Little influence in office

How much Aydan Özoguz will actually be able to change in her position is questionable. The Office of the Minister for Migration, Refugees and Integration is subordinate to the chancellery and does not have an infrastructure of its own. The relevant specialized departments and units belong to the Labor and Interior ministries and others. But as the government's person to turn to on integration, Özoguz will be able to give a voice to the issue.

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