One of the most controversial policy decisions already made by Chancellor Angela Merkel's new centre-right coalition is the introduction in 2013 of the so-called Betreuungsgeld, money paid to parents deciding to keep their children out of public day care.
The €150 a month for each child under three years old was a key demand of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, during coalition negotiations. But the subsidy has been dubbed the “stove premium” by critics, who fear it discourages women with children from working. Others, such as Buschkowsky from the centre-left Social Democrats, see it as a threat to efforts to integrate immigrants into German society.
What were your thoughts when you heard about the introduction of the Betreuungsgeld?
That apparently there are still people that just don't get it. If you want to bolster education-shy parents and decrease the opportunities of their children this is certainly the best way to do it.
Why is that?
Because the lives of the so-called uneducated classes on social welfare benefits will become more comfortable. Children will become an even greater income factor. With other words: (Merkel's coalition) is preserving the lower classes and at the same time is making youth criminal sentencing laws tougher. That's a policy of pure cynicism for society.
It sounds as if you're rather frustrated.
I am, to put it mildly, stunned. Subsidies that keep kids in their own environment rather than have them integrate? This is completely backwards. This proposal ignores the accomplishments of almost all OECD countries and several scientific studies. Experts agree that we have to invest in children and not in their parents. The new coalition is now ruining all that with brute force.
What exactly do you fear most?
That the Betreuungsgeld won't be spent on supporting and educating the children. Speaking plainly: lower class Germans will drink it away and lower class immigrants will bring over Granny for day care.
Granny doesn't necessarily have to be bad for kids..
No, but in 99 percent of all cases she unfortunately won't speak German. Just as little as the parents do. Day care is so important for that reason alone. And it should be as early as possible, because the younger the children are, the easier it is to grow up bilingual.
Can't preschool fix that?
Preschool and day care is not mandatory, which is something I've been demanding for a long time. If children with almost no or broken German go to school, they are often trapped for the rest of their education.
But if families have more money that doesn't have to be bad either.
Single mothers are some of the socially worse-off people in Germany. Something should have been done for them, but this €150 won't help them at all. They still have to go to work. But many other families will now wonder if they'd rather pay for day care for their children or make money. Free day care like in Berlin starting in 2011 is utopian elsewhere. We've tried to integrate families into society via the day care centres for years. Now we'll send them away with a subsidy if they stay behind closed doors. It simply can't really be true.
Heinz Buschkowsky (61) has been the mayor of Berlin's Neukölln district since 2001. The Social Democrat has repeatedly tried to highlight the multicultural neighbourhood's social problems. This interview by Sandra Dassler originally appeared in German in Der Tagesspiegel. Translation by The Local.