SHARE
COPY LINK

POLITICS

‘Germany is an immigration country’: Scholz sets out future vision

Chancellor Olaf Scholz set out his vision for Germany under the coalition government, underlining the need for transformation when it comes to the climate, modernisation, immigration and integration.

People walk in Bamberg, Bavaria.
People walk in Bamberg, Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

Scholz held the floor in the Bundestag on Wednesday in a two-hour speech in which he set out the new government’s plans for the coming four years. 

The lengthy speech – which is a traditional fixture for incoming German governments – was his first address since he became the ninth chancellor of Germany last week, taking over from Angela Merkel who was in office for 16 years. 

Touching on overarching themes of respect, solidarity and support for everyone in the country, Scholz showed his Social Democratic colours throughout. 

But he also hammered the home the fact that things were going to change in the coming years. He talked about a transformation in the way businesses and people go about their lives as the country aims to do as much as possible to protect the climate. 

Scholz also called for solidarity and for people to get vaccinated to combat the Covid pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany will ‘defend itself against anti-vaxxers’, says Scholz

Here’s a look at some of the points Scholz touched on in his wide-ranging speech.

Immigration and citizenship

As The Local has been reporting, the new German coalition government is planning an overhaul of the immigration system and citizenship processes.

We’ve been looking at this theme in detail because it affects to so many of our readers – most of whom are foreigners in Germany themselves. 

“Germany is an immigration country,” said Scholz as he addressed the Bundestag. “It’s high time we understand ourselves. Therefore it’s high time we make it easier to become a German citizen.”

“It is only on this basis that we can make full integration and political participation possible.”

Scholz said the new German government plans to make citizenship possible after five years in Germany – reducing it from the current eight years.

The coalition plans also state that this could be reduced to three years in the case of special integration achievements.

There are also plans to relax the current strict rules on holding more than one citizenship. This would be beneficial for non-EU nationals who – on the whole – are not granted more than one passport if they apply to be naturalised in Germany. 

“We’re going to make multiple citizenship possible, which is in keeping with many people in this country,” said Scholz, adding that it will allow people to hold the citizenship of their country of origin as well as German citizenship.

READ ALSO:

Chancellor Olaf Scholz greets Bundestag members including Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock after his speech
Chancellor Olaf Scholz greets Bundestag members including Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock after his speech on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Scholz said the coalition planned to enact a new immigration law. The coalition has said there are plans to introduce a points-based system of immigration to attract more skilled workers.

The new government also wants to streamline processes. 

“It will be easier for immigrants to find jobs in Germany,” said Scholz in the Bundestag. “Educational qualifications from people coming from abroad should be recognised more easily.”

Climate, modernisation and business

In the fight to slow down climate change, Scholz told people in Germany that there would be far-reaching changes. 

The phase-out of fossil fuels must be accelerated, he said. By 2030, 80 percent of electricity demand is to come from renewable sources. “This means that the biggest transformation of our industry and economy in at least 100 years lies ahead of us,” said the Chancellor.

“The prosperity of our country depends on our ability to build the infrastructures for the climate-neutral age.”

In general, he said, the coming years would be about modernising and investing in many areas – from charging stations and wind farms, to digitalisation and administration.

There is no point in “saving against the crisis”, said Scholz underlining the need to invest in the changes the country needs.

READ ALSO: German cabinet agrees €60 billion climate investment plan

He talked of a “new era” in Germany’s digital path.

“Germany has to come back to the top of the league in terms of digital infrastructure,” said Scholz. “And for that reason we will invest in future technologies.”

On the subject of financing, Scholz said that spending would be put to the test and there would be a crack down on tax evasion. 

Scholz, however, did attribute a big role to the economy and promised “super write-offs” in 2022 and 2023 for investments in climate protection and digitalisation.

Innovative companies are also to receive further tax benefits, and the development bank KfW is to play an even stronger role, Scholz said – perhaps an influence from his coalition teammates, the business-friendly Free Democrats.

Scholz said the government hopes to make Germany the leading European location for startups.

Equality, respect and wages

Scholz underlined the need for equality in society, touching on class and gender differences. 

He said the minimum wage hike would be an important step for this. 

A worker in a restaurant in Oldenburg, Lower Saxony.
People on lower wages, such as in the hospitality industry, should receive a wage boost. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sina Schuldt

“We can only solve all of these issues if everybody in Germany can have a good life and there’s some pre0condtions to make that happen,” said Scholz, adding that the government planned to raise the minimum wage to €12 per hour over the course of the next year. 

He said increasing the minimum wage regularly “is possible in a country that is as economically strong as Germany and is a necessary thing to do anyway.”

Scholz said up to 10 million people would benefit from this. 

“This is one expression of our politics of paying respect to people,” he said. “Then there’s the topic of equal opportunities for men and women. And that has to happen now and not in some distant future.

“Everybody has the same influence, power and the same options. It also means you receive the same pay for the same work. And we will make sure that will happen.”

READ ALSO: What will the new German government mean for your wallet?

Housing and transport

Scholz also touched on the issue of spiralling rents in Germany as well as transport. 

He said “high quality, good and affordable housing is a human need”.

But he said many people living in cities cannot achieve this. Scholz said the government needed to take action in the housing market, and vowed to build 400,000 new housing units in Germany each year, with 100,000 of them publicly subsidised. 

He also said the housing crisis “won’t be solved overnight”, and added that the government would in the short-term create an alliance for affordable housing, with plans to extend the rent brake law.

Landlords will also face tighter caps in how much they are allowed to raise rents in tight housing markets. 

On the topic of transport, Scholz said he wanted to see large cities “become better connected” and said there would be more night trains.

He said rural areas would get more trains, and older tracks would be reactivated. 

“We want to see more passengers on our trains,” he said. 

Scholz acknowledged that some people would still prefer to drive, but called for a move towards electric cars. 

READ ALSO: E-cars and sleeper trains: How Germany’s new government will reform transport

Member comments

  1. Maybe better to check with The Netherlands in terms of providing administrative services in English. Could be another “attraction” for us.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Why the Greens are the real winners of Germany’s state elections

German state elections don't tell us everything about the public mood, but the past few votes have revealed some pretty clear winners and losers. While support for the SPD is flagging, the Greens are growing in stature by the day, writes Brian Melican.

Why the Greens are the real winners of Germany's state elections

It’s one of the peculiarities of Germany’s federal system that we’re almost never more than six months away from an election being held somewhere. Alongside the national elections (Bundestagswahl) usually every four years, each of the 16 states also hold ballots (Landtagswahl) on varying cycles; then there are local and mayoral elections, too. As such, rolling campaigning and more-or-less continuous election analysis are a part of life here: “What does Election X say about Government Y?” is a question you will always hear being asked somewhere.

Nevertheless, regional elections have a habit of clustering – and generally come at points when national governments would rather not have people poring over electoral data. And this year, after barely six months in office, Olaf Scholz’ novel tri-partite traffic-light coalition has already been faced with three regional elections – in Saarland (27th March), last week in Schleswig-Holstein (8th May), and yesterday in North-Rhine Westphalia (15th May). On a regional level, the popularity of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) has already been thoroughly tested. 

Understanding state elections

The key thing to remember about German regional elections are that they both are and aren’t about national politics. Firstly, here’s how they aren’t. At a basic level, these regional elections are simply about voters choosing a government to deal with state-level remits (mainly health, education, and housing). They will vote first and foremost on these issues.

Personality politics are also important: long-serving German state premiers frequently garner the unofficial honorific Landesvater or Landesmutter –  literally: ‘father/mother of the state’ – and benefit from high personal approval ratings, allowing them to withstand changes in mood at national level. So it is by no means infrequent for voters to return completely different parties in regional than at national elections. By way of example, while Olaf Scholz, SPD, remained a popular Landesvater figure in Hamburg, Merkel’s CDU still won more Hamburg votes at national elections.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Sunday’s state parliament vote in NRW is important for German politics

Then again, regional elections also are about national politics. That’s because they never take place in a vacuum (except for in Bavaria, of course, where everyone always votes CSU). Even the most beloved of state premiers faces an uphill struggle if their party is currently making a hash of things in Berlin. What is more, the larger and the more representative the Bundesland, the more results of its elections can show swings in voter mood which may be of national relevance.

The Greens’ slow ascent from their mid-2000s funk to their current swagger began in Baden-Württemberg: winning control of this state populated by 11 million people and many of Germany’s top industrialists showed that voters trusted them to be part of a government. That set the ball rolling and by the time of last year’s national election, the Greens were already in power in half of federal states. Incidentally, it is often overlooked that state governments make up the Bundesrat, the second chamber of parliament, which can accept or refuse laws made by the Bundestag. So shifts in power here can be of national relevance.

This dichotomy has the predictable effect that, in the aftermath of every Landtagswahl, the losing parties usually claim that it was simply a regional ballot with nothing to say about national politics while the winning parties play up the significance at federal level.

Olaf Scholz and Thomas Kutschaty

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) congratulates Thomas Kutschaty, SPD candidate in North Rhine-Westphalia, after the party wins 26.7 percent of the vote. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

An SPD disaster 

This is why it is very bad news for Olaf Scholz and the SPD that their only victory in spring 2022’s three Landtagswahlen was in dinky little Saarland, a state whose population is smaller than that of a major city like Cologne and whose local politics are so marked by rivalries and infighting as to have little-to-no relevance nationally. Despite winning an absolute majority in the regional parliament at Saarbrücken (a rare feat in proportional representation), there was no way the SPD could claim a national bearing – and, to its credit, didn’t try to do so either.

In Schleswig-Holstein, the SPD wasn’t expected to unseat the CDU’s Daniel Günther, a likeable and well-liked premier coming to the end of five years at the helm of a surprisingly successful Jamaica coalition with the Greens and the FDP. Here, too, the national relevance was relatively low: Schleswig-Holstein has only 3 million inhabitants and few large towns and cities. Nevertheless, losing over half its seats while the Greens and CDU gained by the same amount was not a good result for the SPD.

What was disastrous, however, was last night’s result in North-Rhine Westphalia. With a population the size of the neighbouring Netherlands (17 million) and everything from Germany’s largest urban conurbation down to isolated mountain regions, NRW is often considered a microcosm of the country as a whole. As something of a swing state, parties which succeed here often go on to win the next national election (if they aren’t already in government).

READ ALSO:

What is more, unlike in Schleswig-Holstein, NRW was the SDP’s to win. Until last year, its premier was the luckless Armin Laschet (remember him?), who plumbed popularity depths in his failed bid to become Chancellor. He then left a badly-damaged CDU-FDP administration to Hendrik Wüst, a successor whose profile, if he had one at all, was defined by various low-level corruption scandals (including a regrettable incident where he sold slots with the then-NRW premier, Jürgen Rüttgers, to high-paying commercial lobbyists…).

Hendrik Wüst (CDU)

Re-elected NRW state premier Hendrik Wüst (CDU) celebrates his victory. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Even if Wüst proved to be an unexpectedly good campaigner and the SPD’s Thomas Kutschaty remained oddly faceless, the fact that Olaf Scholz himself got involved and that the SPD still ended up with its worst showing in NRW ever is nothing less than a serious defeat for both the Chancellor and his party – one which, in my view, underlines how Scholz has not yet lived up to expectations.

Nevertheless, he is in luck. Firstly, the electoral cycle means that this upset is occurring at the beginning of his term; there will be time to recover. Secondly, although Wüst gets first crack at forming a government, the Greens are his only real potential partner – and will take a lot of courting. NRW Greens are on the more left-wing end of the spectrum and will play the field, potentially trying to usher in a mini traffic-light coalition in Düsseldorf if it looks feasible later.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Scholz is already out of step with Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Growing support for Greens

So after the post-Merkel rout, the CDU has scored an important and much-needed victory, but harnessing it to get momentum nationally may yet prove difficult. Indeed, it’s the Greens who have come out of the last two weekends with a new swing in their step. Following a disappointing national election last year, they have once again hit their stride, due in no small part to the Ukraine reminding voters of why renewable energy is important on the one hand and the impressive figures cut by Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock in government on the other.

For the FDP, things are not looking so good. Despite negotiating a disproportionately high amount of their manifesto into last year’s agreement, they are suffering the fate of many a junior coalition partner: a lack of profile. On strictly regional terms, they lost votes to the popular Daniel Günther in Schleswig-Holstein (perhaps unavoidably, despite a good record as part of his coalition) and to the not-yet-popular Hendrik Wüst (following lacklustre performance in government in Düsseldorf).

Greens party posters NRW

Posters featuring Greens candidate Mona Neubaur highlight the link between fossil fuels and Russia’s authoritarian leadership. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Worryingly for Christian Lindner, however, this may be harbinger of history repeating itself. Essentially, FDP voters tend to get enthusiastic for a business-friendly go-getter type who promises to lower taxes and slash regulation, only to later turn their back on him when, once part of a coalition government, he proves unable to deliver the small-state free-for-all promised. That’s what happened to Guido Westerwelle in the 2009-2013 administration, in any case.

There is, however, one bit of unadulterated good news for all parties and indeed our country as a whole: the AfD lost vote share everywhere. The populist outfit didn’t even make it into parliament in Schleswig-Holstein and only just scraped in in NRW. It would seem that, in times of crisis, voters don’t want to add to the list of potential disasters by putting populists anywhere near power. This is a hypothesis we’ll be able to test in just under six months’ time, by the way, when Lower-Saxony goes to the polls on 9th October. 

SHOW COMMENTS