Speaking to the daily Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, de Maizière said there needed to be a “culture of welcoming” in Germany that the government could not provide on its own. He said though immigrants needed to make greater efforts to integrate, Germans also needed to recognise the contributions of foreigners.
“Without immigration, combined with openness and tolerance, our country would be much poorer,” he said. “Fearmongering isn't valid. We have to invest in building trust between people.”
The conservative Christian Democrat de Maizière also said Islam was “rooted” in Germany and there shouldn't be neither “prejudice nor euphemisms” in the current debate about the integration of Muslims in German society sparked by former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin.
“Successful integration is determined by several factors. Most important is the personal responsibility of the immigrant,” he said. “We must demand this.”
The head of the centre-left opposition Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, told the website of news magazine Der Speigel on Monday that Germany should take a tougher line with those immigrants unwilling to make an effort to integrate into society.
“Whoever continually rejects integration offers cannot stay in Germany – just like preachers of hatred in mosques paid from abroad,” he said.
Gabriel also said the country's politicians had to take Germans' concerns about safety seriously.
“Where there are criminal flash points, regardless of whether they are German or foreign, we need a stronger police presence on the ground,” he said, explaining that integration had to be bolstered by better language offerings, family centres, as well as all-day schools and trainee programmes.
But he also said integration success stories needed better promotion.
“Germany can be proud that so many children from guest worker families are now scientists, skilled workers, or entrepreneurs,” Gabriel said.
The SPD leader also defended the decision to kick Sarrazin out of the party because of his inflammatory rhetoric against Muslim immigrants.
“His theories are a mixture in the tradition of racial purity from the 1920s,” he said.