It’s been an interesting few weeks politically – no not here, here in the UK it’s been as dull as ditchwater – but over the channel in France & Germany there’s a revolution of language underway which looks set to spark a strongly worded and possibly strongly actioned change in the way these two European giants handle immigration and multiculturalism.
It’s not a new argument admittedly, but it’s unusual in the extreme for centrist politicians to be voicing their concerns about immigration in such strong terms, and in the French case with such strong action.
Immigration has been a political football in the UK and Europe for many years, the general consensus for the last decade has been that it’s a play thing of the right, and the marching drum of the far right – that there’s always a ‘more sensible’ way of dealing with it than by demanding integration and by toughening inward border controls, and that we’ll all eventually get on under the great banner of multiculturalism.
The truth however has been rather different in practice – and while it’s difficult to agree with many of the broad brush soundbites that certain characters are so fond of, it is time for an adult debate immigration and for concessions from both sides of the argument that the multicultural experiment has perhaps failed in more places than it’s succeeded, and it would seem that the debate will start in Germany.
Since a string of controversial comments in June from the former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin, linked to the publication and launch of his latest tome Deutschland schafft sich ab – Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen, or “Abolishing Germany – How we’re putting our country at jeopardy” debate has been raging: and while politicians from all sides initially condemned Sarrazin’s position the conversation has spread, with polls showing growing public support for a much tougher stance on immigration and integration.
Indeed in early September a poll carried in the Bild tabloid, conducted by the respected pollsters Emnid, revealed that 18% would vote for a party headed by Sarrazin, who only a few weeks earlier had been forced to resign from his powerful Bundesbank position for the media storm that his comments had caused. 18% in a land of coalition government is a figure that will get any politicos’ attention, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s been an element of band-wagon-jumping from some politicians; but far from it being the usual suspects on the margins it’s the heavyweight nature of those now jumping into the debate with both feet that’s capturing international attention.
The Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer suggested a ban on immigration for Turks and Arabs because of their “difficulties” with integration, roundly abused at the time, but since then, several conservative politicians have been joining his ranks. It’s a difficult question: how do you have a discussion about multiculturalism failing without upsetting the components of the multicultural society? Regardless – the box is now open: and there is no putting the stuff inside it back. We can only hope that the conversation remains adult, that cheap political point scoring doesn’t become the standard.
Europe has fought over different cultures before, it’s a problem that many perceive as unsolvable, many more believe it’s contentious and essential to solve in one way or another. With the potential of new threats caused by population movement, climate change, economic upheaval and the constant issue of illegal immigration and cross-border crime, EU institutions, national governments and individuals – all of us – are going to have some tough decisions to face in the coming months and years on this particular topic.