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German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she gives a speech during a regional conference of her Christian Democratic Union party on October 20, 2010 in Luebeck, northern Germany. (MARCUS BRANDT/AFP/Getty Images)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures as she gives a speech during a regional conference of her Christian Democratic Union party on October 20, 2010 in Luebeck, northern Germany. (MARCUS BRANDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Globe Editorial

Germany's multikulti straw man Add to ...

Germany's policy toward immigrants has failed - but not for the reasons German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes.

"The approach of multiculturalism, to live side by side and to enjoy each other, has failed, utterly failed," said Ms. Merkel at a weekend gathering of her Christian Democratic Union party.

Yet Germany never had a so-called "multikulti" model, understood, in Canada anyway, as a way to encourage newcomers to adapt to the host society, while retaining their original culture.

Instead, Germany's approach focused on inviting temporary guest workers from Turkey to fill jobs for which no Germans could be found. They were supposed to leave after their contracts expired, but German employers lobbied to keep them. Many who arrived in the 1960s ended up staying and having children.

Until recently, most were unable to obtain citizenship.

With no ability to enjoy the benefits of citizenship, is it any wonder many Turks did not embrace a new identity or learn German? Though some have done well, a disproportionate number of Germany's four million ethnic Turks remain poor, lack a basic education and are shut out of the mainstream economy.

A key element in Canada's immigration model is to ensure newcomers can readily obtain citizenship; 85 per cent become Canadians every year. This fosters both political participation and socio-economic mobility. Canada also emphasizes the need to learn French or English, as well as multiculturalism.

In Germany, as elsewhere in Europe, extreme anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views are becoming more prevalent, as frustrated nationals seek to blame outsiders for their economic hardships. Nearly a third of respondents agreed that "foreigners come to abuse the welfare state," according to a study by a think tank, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Ms. Merkel is aware of these political realities. However, she is also cognizant that Germany, with an aging population and a shortage of skilled workers, must strive to make immigrants feel welcome. The government's proposed new immigration model is modelled on Canada's. New legislation was announced this week, focusing on German-language training and a recognition of foreign diplomas.

Thus the Canadian approach may, in the final analysis, help Germany put its immigrant communities on the path to success. Even if nobody uses the M-word.

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