Germany's integration commissioner believes it's time the constitution included a paragraph committing the country to integrating newcomers - plus a dedicated integration ministry. But conservatives don't see the point.
Germany is changing, so Germany's constitution needs to change. That's the argument behind a political initiative to make Germany commit to integrating newcomers to the country by including a new paragraph in the Grundgesetz - Germany's constitution - that would make the country commit to integration as a "state aim."
The most prominent political supporter of the idea is Aydan Özoguz, Germany's integration commissioner, who told broadcaster ZDF, "I think it's a good idea if the Basic Law makes clear what kind of country Germany is, namely a country of immigration."
Özoguz added that Germany should follow that up by setting up a federal ministry dedicated to integration policy. Six German states already have one of these - or at least have integration named in the ministry's title alongside other policy areas, such as social affairs, justice, family, health, and labor and children.
A similar dispute has recently broken out in the UK, where Theresa May has opted to absorb a cross-departmental minister specifically responsible for integrating Syrian refugees into the Home Office - drawing criticism from the opposition Labour Party.
What's the need?
But the change that Özoguz, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has called for is much more fundamental. But the senior partner in Germany's governing coalition, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is much less keen on the idea. The center-right party released a statement on Monday entitled "We don't need a federal integration ministry" which almost seemed offended by the implication of Özoguz's proposal:
"The suggestions imply wrongly that the federal government is doing too little for integration policy," it read. "The opposite is true: the federal government has clearly acknowledged that integration is one of the core tasks of our decade."
The CDU's own integration spokeswoman Cemile Giousouf also accused Özoguz of being impractical: "People don't need new ministries or Basic Law articles," she said. "They need and expect concrete support and help. The demands of state minister Özoguz don't solve either of the problems on the issue of integration."
But Farhad Dilmaghani, chairman of DeutschPlus, the group that initially proposed the constitutional addition, said this was not the point - once the aim had been established in principle, the practical implications would be obliged to follow. "The constitutional law should be an expression of social reality - it was often changed in the last 60 or 70 years, for example when it enshrined environmental protection," he told DW.
In a piece written for the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" last year, Dilmaghani suggested a text for the new article: "The Federal Republic of Germany is a diverse country of immigration. For that reason it promotes equal participation and integration."
"The practical advantage is that if you codify a state aim then the state organs are obliged to continue to pursue it - legislatively, executively and judicially," he said. "A lot of different sides have supported this, including conservatives."
New society, new challenge, new law
This constitutional imperative, some argue, would also help to solve problems in other areas - some 20 percent of Germans have some kind of non-German heritage, but they are under-represented in public services. "This gap would have to be closed," said Dilmaghani.
Dilmaghani also expressed surprise at the CDU statement. "For me it's strange that the CDU/CSU is against it, because in all the states where they govern, there is an integration ministry," he said. Not only that, as the CDU's Giousouf makes clear - even conservative politicians agree that integration is one of the country's biggest social challenges. "But there is no [federal] institution that can take up this task," said Dilmaghani. "There isn't even a parliamentary committee for integration."
New government departments and constitutional changes are often put in place in reaction to crises or new public concerns. West Germany's Environment Ministry, for instance, was set up in 1986, the same year as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, while an article making environmental protection a "state aim" entered the German constitution in 1994.
Indeed, West Germany once set up a ministry specifically to deal with a different refugee crisis - there was a "Ministry for Displaced People, Refugees and War Affected" between 1949 and 1969, following the Second World War. But despite the public concerns about immigration and the urgency of the refugee crisis, the government has no plans to expand Özoguz's present role as state commissioner.
"A state commissioner is rather an ombudsman, kind of a spokesperson," said Dilmaghani. "A ministry can draw up laws, and can represent a point of view with much more strength within the government than a commissioner."
In a recent interview with the radio station "Deutschlandfunk," Özoguz put it succinctly: "A commissioner can say a lot ... but at the end of the day can't draw up a single law, at the end of the day they have to ask ministers, couldn't you maybe consider this or that?"