Monday, 18 October 2010
It Had To Be Said
'Multiculturalism has failed' pronounced Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor yesterday.
Back in the late 60s I was a 'guest worker' in Germany. There were strict rules such as mandatory attendance of German classes, reporting to the Arbeitsamt regularly (a type of labour exchange) and my employer was regularly contacted to ensure I was still employed by them. My work permit was for one year with the possibility of it being extended to two years. Unfortunately neither my employer or myself understood the extension was only granted if the guest worker still had basic language difficulties and, because I'd studied German at school, I was able to move quickly through the language classes. Within 5 months I had completed the full 'Deutsch für Ausländer' programmes. A few months later matters became difficult when the Arbeitsamt started to harass my employer and myself because, according to the rules, I could no longer work under my current work permit. They considered I was now too qualified for a domestic work permit and I had also proved I had a reasonable command of the language so I was pressurised, by the Arbeitsamt, into setting up my own business. My employer was a good friend and I had no wish to cause them trouble with the state, so I decided to return to the UK. I was far too young (and naive) to consider buying or renting my own business in another country.
Back to the language classes. They were poorly attended, perhaps because there were fees involved, and I think only around 10% of the list attended even irregularly. Therefore the state did have a problem even then trying to ensure their guest workers knew basic German although, if they were as thorough with the progress of others as they were with mine, then surely not many slipped through the system in those days.
However, when I did return to work in Germany it was near the Dutch/German border. There were large communities of Turkish workers and few integrated with the local populations. One of my staff, a delightful and hard-working middle-aged Turkish woman, came to me one day in a distressed state. She wanted to know if I could offer a job to her brother and sister-in-law because they had applied to come to Germany as she had been resident for over 10 years. The truth was she didn't want the responsibility of sponsoring them and she knew if they didn't find work then she would be responsible for their living expenses. The German benefit system was similar to ours in those days. Houses were not provided and state benefits were tightly controlled.
Nowadays I hear from my German friends that it's not immigration that's the problem, it's the quantity of it (ring any bells?). Richard puts it down to Muslim immigration but I think the nationalities are far more diverse.
Is Angela Merkel right to openly state her belief that multiculturalism has failed in her country? As the leader of her country and a politician yes she is. Her challenge now is to say what action she intends to take to ensure integration. She has to appear to be fair and tolerant as well as understanding yet firm. A difficult balancing act indeed.