German president criticizes ′sweeping statements′ on integration | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.10.2010

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German president criticizes 'sweeping statements' on integration

Germany's president, Christian Wulff, has warned that blanket generalizations about Muslim immigrants are wrong. The comments come as he begins a tour of Turkey, with the debate about integration rumbling on in Germany.

A Muslim woman with a headscarf crossing the road

Wulff says individuals need the chance to integrate

German President Christian Wulff has criticized "sweeping statements" about a failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate, ahead of a visit to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday.

The president arrived in Turkey on Monday to begin a five-day trip that has been overshadowed by a national debate in Germany about Muslim integration.

"I believe it is a mistake to maintain that a whole group is unable and unwilling to integrate," Wulff told the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet's Tuesday edition.

Seizing opportunities

Christian Wulff and Angela Merkel

Wulff's comments follow Merkel's claim that multi-culturalism has failed

"It comes down to individuals," Wulff said, adding that the state and society had to offer opportunities to integrate. "In return, individuals must accept these opportunities.

Wulff was set to meet Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, before giving a speech in the Turkish parliament.

His comments to the newspaper came after Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday that multiculturalism in Germany had "failed completely" and that immigrants should do more to integrate.

The debate about Islam and integration reached a new level in Germany when a then member of the country's central bank, Thilo Sarrazin, launched a book claiming that Muslim immigrants were undermining German culture. Although Sarrazin subsequently resigned from the bank, his book has been a bestseller.

Bid to calm integration debate

At the start of the month, Wulff tried to calm the controversy by claiming that - along with Christianity and Judaism - Islam was now also a part of Germany.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

Wulff was set to meet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

His comments sparked reaction from conservative politicians, such as Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, who said Germany should not accept more immigration from "foreign cultures" such as Turkey and Arab countries.

The president also used the newspaper interview to address the issue of Turkish entry to the European Union. He said it was in Germany's interest that Turkey should continue to adopt European economic, legal and constitutional standards. Wulff said that Turkey's negotiations to join the EU should be handled in a fair and open-minded way, adding that the country had already made considerable progress.

Germany has some four million Muslims among its 82 million inhabitants, with some 2.5 million Turks forming the largest ethnic minority in the country.

Author: Richard Connor (AP, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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