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Open borders for all? The debate dividing Germany’s Die Linke

Germany’s Die Linke (The Left party) has traditionally supported open borders. Some members think that position is driving voters away - while others accuse them of betraying the party’s roots.

Open borders for all? The debate dividing Germany’s Die Linke
Die Linke's parliamentary chairperson Sarah Wagenknecht (left) and party leader Katja Kipping. Photo: DPA

At this weekend’s party conference in Leipzig, members of Die Linke voted for a motion calling for “open borders”. The question is, open for who?

Typically, the party has understood open borders to mean open for everyone, whether people fleeing war and persecution in their homeland or people simply looking for a better life, and a better job, in Germany.

Sahra Wagenknecht, the party’s parliamentary co-chairperson, sees things differently.

“There have to be open borders for the persecuted,” she said, “but we certainly can’t say that anyone who wants to may come to Germany, claim social benefits, and look for work.” That point of view is “detached from reality”, she claimed.

Wagenknecht has practical concerns: she worries that the Left’s support for open borders, beyond the recognition of right to asylum, is driving voters away from the party. She also fears that uncontrolled migration increases the pressure on Germans looking for work.

Nevertheless, many members consider open borders for all a fundamental part of the The Left's identity, an ideal they are not willing to give up. Party leaders Katja Kipping and Bernd Riexinger, belong to that group. In her speech, Kipping personally criticized Oskar Lafontaine, Wagenknecht’s husband and one of modern Germany’s most famous left-wing politicians – she complained that Lafontaine was “questioning this party’s democratic decisions” about refugee policy.

One of Kipping’s allies then accused Wagenknecht of splitting the party. Wagenknecht responded that open borders don’t help starving people in Africa who can’t make it to Europe, upon which some members booed her loudly.

It’s unclear which wing of the party will have the upper hand in the long run. The motion backing “open borders” leaves room for interpretation in terms of who may cross them. Such uncertainty is only permissible as long as The Left are an opposition party and don't have to write a migration law. And while Kipping and Riexinger were re-elected at the conference, they got fewer votes than ever.

Wagenknecht, meanwhile, remains The Left’s most recognizable face and most charismatic speaker, but she is not party leader. Rather than running for party leader, she is creating a separate left-wing movement meant to attract voters from other left-wing parties, in order to give left-wingers a better chance of taking power. Kipping is concerned that Wagenknecht’s movement will do nothing but divide Die Linke against itself.

Divisions are already evident, but there is one area where Die Linke is more unified. They want, in Wagenknecht’s words, to reduce the far-right Alternative for Germany to “a bird shit in the course of German history.”

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IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

Moving to another country is never easy, as it requires going through cultural changes and administrative formalities. It can be even more complicated when looking for a job.

EXPLAINED: What are the main obstacles to finding a job when moving to an EU country?

According to new data released by the EU statistical office, Eurostat, the knowledge of the national language and the recognition of professional qualifications are the two most common obstacles experienced by foreign-born people in finding a ‘suitable’ job in countries of the European Union.

Overall, about a quarter of people born outside the EU who had experience in working or looking for work in the bloc reported some difficulties getting a ‘suitable’ job for level of education (without considering the field of expertise or previous experience).

The Eurostat analysis shows that the situation is better for EU citizens moving within the bloc. But there are major differences depending on countries and gender.

Life can be more difficult for women

In 2021, 13.2 percent of men and 20.3 percent of women born in another European Union country reported obstacles in getting a suitable job in the EU place of residence.

These proportions however increase to 20.9 percent for men and 27.3 percent for women born in a non-EU country with a high level of development (based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index) and 31.1 percent for men and 35.7 percent for women from non-EU countries with a low or medium level of development.

Finland (42.9 percent), Sweden (41.7 percent), Luxembourg (34.6 percent) and France (32.1 percent) are the countries with the highest shares of people born outside the EU reporting problems. Norway, which is not part of the bloc, has an even higher percentage, 45.2, and Switzerland 34.3 percent.

In contrast, Cyprus (11.2 percent), Malta (10.9 percent), Slovenia (10.2 percent), Latvia (10 percent) and Lithuania (6.7 percent) have the lowest proportion of people born outside the EU reporting difficulties.

Lack of language skills

The lack of skills in the national language is most commonly cited as a hurdle, and it is even more problematic for women.

This issue was reported by 4.2 percent of men born in another EU country, 5.3 percent of those born in a developed country outside the EU and 9.7 percent of those from a non-EU country with a middle or low level of development. The corresponding shares for women, however, were 5.6, 6.7 and 10.5 percent respectively.

The countries where language skills were more likely to be reported by non-EU citizens as an obstacle in getting a relevant job were Finland (22.8 percent), Luxembourg (14.7 percent) and Sweden (13.1 percent).

As regards other countries covered by The Local, the percentage of non-EU citizens citing the language as a problem was 12.4 percent in Austria, 10.2 percent in Denmark, 7.8 percent in France, 5.1 percent in Italy, 2.7 percent in Spain, 11.1 percent on Norway and 10.1 percent in Switzerland. Data is not available for Germany.

Portugal (77.4 percent), Croatia (68.8 percent), Hungary (58.8 percent) and Spain (58.4 percent) have the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving, while more than 70 percent of non-EU citizens residing in Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Norway said they had participated in language courses after arrival.

Lisbon Portugal

Portugal has the highest share of people from outside the EU already speaking the language as a mother tongue before arriving. (Photo by Aayush Gupta on Unsplash)

Recognition of qualifications

Another hurdle on the way to a relevant job in EU countries is the lack of recognition of a formal qualification obtained abroad. This issue was reported by 2 percent of men and 3.8 percent of women born in another EU country. It was also mentioned by 3.3 percent of men and 5.9 percent of women born in a developed country outside the EU, and 4.8 percent of men and 4.6 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Eurostat says this reflects an “unofficial distrust” among employers of qualification obtained abroad and the “low official validation of foreign education”.

The lack of availability of a suitable job was another factor mentioned in the survey. In Croatia, Portugal and Hungary, this was the main obstacle to getting an adequate position.

This issue concerned 3.3 percent of men and 4.5 percent of women born in another EU country, 4.2 percent of men and 5 percent of women born in a developed non-EU country It also worried 3.9 percent of men and 5.1 percent of women born in a less developed non-EU country.

Restricted right to work due to citizenship or residence permits, as well as plain discrimination on the grounds of origin were also cited as problems.

Discrimination was mostly reported by people born in a less developed non-EU country (3.1 percent for men and 3.3 percent for women) compared to people born in highly developed non-EU countries (1.9 percent for men and 2.2 percent for women).

Citizenship and residence permits issues are unusual for people from within the EU. For people from outside the EU, this is the only area where women seem to have fewer problems than men: 1.6 percent of women from developed non-EU countries reported this issue, against 2.1 percent of men, with the share increasing to 2.8 and 3.3 percent respectively for women and men from less developed non-EU states.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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