After months of haggling, Germany's coalition government has agreed on a new "Integration Law" aimed at regulating the rights and responsibilities of asylum seekers in Germany.
The main focus of the law is to encourage refugees to learn enough German to be able to find a job and help pay for their living expenses.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has hailed the new law as a "milestone," and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel says it represents a "true paradigm shift in Germany."
Critics counter that the new law is a largely symbolic measure directed at reassuring German voters and blunting the rise of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party.
Details of the Integration Law were announced on May 25 after a two-day government summit in Schloss Meseberg, a castle north of Berlin. Based on the motto "Support and Demand" (Fördern und Fordern), the new law makes the government an active participant in the integration process. Key components of the law include:
- Integration Courses. Courses on German culture, society and values will be expanded from 60 hours to 100 hours. The number of available slots will be increased from 20,000 to 200,000 nationwide. The courses will be obligatory for all asylum seekers; those who refuse to attend will have their social welfare benefits cut.
- Language Courses. Asylum seekers will now be allowed to apply for language courses six weeks after arriving in Germany (compared to three months before) and regardless of whether their asylum applications have been processed. All refugees seeking permanent residency must be proficient in German.
- Work Programs. The government will create 100,000 low-wage jobs paying around one euro an hour. Refugees who refuse to work will have their benefits cut.
- Labor Laws. Existing labor laws will be relaxed to encourage German companies to hire refugees, even if better qualified German or EU citizens are available for an advertised position.
- Preventing Ghettoes. The new law will authorize regional governments to determine where refugees will live, either by allocating or banning them from certain areas, for the next three years. The objective is to prevent refugees from settling in migrant ghettoes.
- Permanent Residency. Refugees who are proficient in German and can provide for their own upkeep in Germany can apply for permanent residency after five years; those with exceptional German skills can do so after three years.
The law has been accompanied by the so-called Meseberger Declaration on Integration, a statement of principles summarizing the government's new integration policy.
Addressing the proliferation of migrant sex crimes in Germany, the document states: "We will not accept assaults on women, children and others in need of protection, whether such attacks are directed against German citizens or against refugees."
Critics say the new law, which must be approved by the German Parliament, which will debate the measure in July, is inadequate to deal with Germany's integration problems.
For a start, the law applies only to legitimate asylum seekers, not to the hundreds of thousands of economic migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East who have entered Germany illegally by posing as asylum seekers.
Of the more than 1.1 million migrants who arrived in Germany in 2015, only 476,649 have applied for asylum, according to official statistics. Many of the rest have gone underground and are sustaining themselves through petty crime and drug dealing. The government has not said how it plans to "integrate" such migrants.
In addition, the government is already facing an acute shortage of instructors to teach the integration courses. It remains unclear where the government will find thousands of new instructors envisioned in the new law. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has admitted: "The bottleneck is not money but the lack of teachers."
Also unclear is who will pay for implementing the new law. According to a recent estimate, the total cost of "integrating" refugees will reach 25 billion euros ($28 billion) in 2016 alone. Leaders of some of Germany's 16 federal states are demanding that the central government assume responsibility for at least half this amount.
Moreover, some critics say the law lacks meaningful punitive measures. Although it does call for cutting welfare benefits to refugees who refuse to learn German, it does not threaten them with deportation. Of course, refugees fleeing warzones cannot be returned to their countries of origin, even if they refuse to learn German.
In any event, Germany is lenient when it comes to deportation. For example, nearly half (49%) of the migrants in Germany whose asylum applications were rejected during the past two years have not left the country, according to government data leaked to Die Welt.
Perhaps most importantly, the new law appears to be based on the assumption that the EU-Turkey migrant deal will hold. If Turkey reopens the floodgates to mass migration, and hundreds of thousands of additional migrants flow into Germany, integration efforts are likely to collapse.
Hans-Peter Uhl of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), said the new law does not go far enough: "Integration is good and important, but placing limits on the number of refugees would be much better."
Stephan Mayer, also of the CSU, added: "Whoever refuses deportation should be sent to a detention center and deported within four days."
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats (SPD) says the Integration Law is actually the precursor to a full-fledged Immigration Law, a claim disputed by Angela Merkel. Gabriel — who has called for airlifting migrants directly from the Middle East to Germany — says he plans to introduce a draft immigration law this fall; critics of the measure say it would encourage yet more migration to Germany.
Thilo Sarrazin, a renowned German central banker and a former member of the Social Democrats (SPD), has been warning Germans for years about the consequences of mass migration. In 2010, he wrote the best-selling book, "Germany Does Away with Itself" (Deutschland schafft sich ab), which shattered Germany's long-standing taboo on discussing the social changes transforming the country due to the presence millions of non-integrated Muslims.
In his latest book, "Wishful Thinking," (Wunschdenken), Sarrazin accuses Merkel of "no longer being concerned about the interests of Germans and the future of their nation, the protection of their living environment (Lebensumfelds) and their cultural identity." He concludes: "Regaining control of our borders is an existential issue for our culture and the survival of our society."
Thilo Sarrazin (left), a renowned German central banker and a former member of the Social Democrats (SPD), accuses Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) of "no longer being concerned about the interests of Germans and the future of their nation, the protection of their living environment and their cultural identity." Sarrazin concludes: "Regaining control of our borders is an existential issue for our culture and the survival of our society."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in 2016.