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‘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.

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IMMIGRATION

INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’

Germany's new coalition government is planning major reforms of the country's citizenship policies. The Local spoke to the FDP's immigration policy expert Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch about when - and how - people can expect the rules to change.

INTERVIEW: 'Changing German citizenship laws is a priority'

For several years – if not decades – citizenship has been an area in Germany politics where very little has been allowed to change.

Though the Social Democrats (SPD) governed for years as the junior coalition partner of the conservative CDU and CSU parties, they were generally blocked at every turn when trying to offer more routes to citizenship. 

Instead, the country kept strict rules banning dual nationality in place, and has continued to have long residency and strict language requirements in place. As a result, Germany has had some of the lowest levels of naturalisation in the EU, with people waiting an average of 17 years before they apply for citizenship.  

This all changed when the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) formed their ‘traffic light’ coalition.   

“Even before the elections took place, we all thought citizenship should be reformed, so there was no major discord between the coalition partners on this issue,” FDP migration policy expert Dr. Ann-Verushka Jurisch told The Local.

“Migration in general was an easy topic because we all think we are an immigration society.”

This, as Jurisch points out, is in stark contrast to the CDU/CSU parties, who have for a long time been reluctant to give immigrations an easier path to becoming German. 

“They think we have a more mainstream German culture,” she said. “Whereas we think we are an open society who should be open to everybody who wants to be part of the project we call Germany.”

That’s why, when the 144-page coalition agreement was released in November, it revealed that a major overhaul of the status quo was coming.

READ ALSO: In limbo: Why Germany’s reform of dual citizenship laws can’t come soon enough

FDP MP and migration expert Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch

FDP MP and migration expert Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch. Photo: Laurence Chaperon

In a key passage that caught the attention of internationals in Germany, the new coalition pledged to create a “modern citizenship law” that would permit allowing the holding of multiple citizenships and “simplify the route to obtaining German citizenship”.

It also pledged to reduce the years of residence needed for citizenship from eight years to five – or three for people who are “exceptionally integrated”. 

Another, slightly more cryptic passage, declared that the current requirement of proving “integration into German living conditions” would be replaced with “clearer criteria” – though Jurisch was unclear about whether this would amount to a major change in the documentation migrants require to naturalise in Germany. 

“I must be quite honest, I do not know if there are really big shifts or changes planned,” she said. “I think, of course, citizenship must be bound to some criteria – but there is a general sense between the coalition partners that we shouldn’t give immigrants too much of a tough time.” 

One thing is clear: the current integration courses and language requirements will remain in place for most people. 

“Language and integration courses will certainly still be part of the game because I think it’s important to communicate certain things about Germany and to me, it makes sense,” Jurisch explained.

But the question is whether the integration courses and the language requirements are there as an obstacle or there as a door that people want to go through? For the coalition it’s more about creating a door rather than an obstacle, and I think that’s one of the major policy shifts that is going to take place.”

Law to change ‘by 2023’ 

Around 14 percent of the population – 11.8 million people – currently live in Germany on a foreign passport.

A proportion of these are EU citizens, who are able to keep their existing passport when they become German, but a large number are from non-EU countries and face the prospect of renouncing their existing citizenship if they want to naturalise.

When The Local conducted a survey on the changing rules back in January, 90 percent of respondents said they wanted to apply for German citizenship – with 78 percent saying they were holding off until the rules were changed.

New Germans sit holding their declaration of allegiance to Germany

New Germans sit holding their declaration of allegiance to Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Matthias Balk

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

So, when exactly will all these modernisations of Germany’s nationality law take place? 

“At the moment, negotiations are taking place between the coalition partners because every coalition partner has their own prioritised projects,” Jurish revealed.

Changing the citizenship law is a prioritised project of the Social Democrats (SPD) and as it happens, the Interior Minister is also from this party. So it’s very likely that the timeline that the minister has suggested – which indicates that it’ll be done at the end of this year – will actually happen.”

When The Local spoke to the Interior Ministry back in April, they were less optimistic about the deadline, with a spokesperson playing down expectations that the new laws would come into force in 2022.

But it appears that the ball is already rolling and that the beginning of 2023 could be a realistic timeframe.

“This is one of the very prioritised projects of the SPD,” Jurisch reiterated. “I think it’s a very valid, important issue, and one that matters to all three partners.”

Lowering the threshold

Despite the urgent appetite for reform within the coalition, there are a number of smaller details that need to be worked out before a new law can be drafted.

In particular, the FDP is keen to ensure that people don’t end up accruing multiple passports over multiple generations.

That means, for example, that first-generation migrants and their children would have a claim to dual nationality, but grandchildren and great-grandchildren will likely still be asked to choose between German nationality and that of their grandparents.

Another task facing the Interior Ministry is to introduce a “hardship clause” that would exempt certain people from the current B1 language requirement in the citizenship application. 

“The starting point is our commitment to the very fact that we are an immigrant society with all its positive implications,” said Jurisch. “And this also means embracing the guest worker community, some of whom maybe came to our country decades ago and still have problems, for example, with the language. And this is an obstacle to becoming a German citizen.

Citizenship test Germany

An applicant for German citizenship takes the citizenship test in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

READ ALSO: Reader question: When will Germany change its citizenship laws?

“We would like to lower the threshold for those people because I think it’s kind of unjust to say, you’ve been here for 30 years but don’t speak the language, so sorry, we don’t want you.”

A run on passports

Another key issue is that, even at current levels of demand, it can take months or even years for Citizenship Offices to process applications.

This is in part due to the size of the respective migrant communities in different areas, and in part due to the fact that Germany is – in Jurisch’s words – “lagging behind” on digitalisation. 

When the doors finally open up to millions more people at the end of the year or start of next, there could be some very long queues. 

“I’m very sorry to say that a lot of things have been left undone over the past 16 years, especially within the field of digitalisation and in terms of accelerating administrative processes,” Jurisch said. “I think it’s a really bad thing because there will be a run (on citizenship), and processes will be slow.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How I got German citizenship – and how you can too

Since digitalisation projects tend to take several months or even years, Jurisch believes it’s unlikely that much progress will have been made on modernising the citizenship application process by the time the laws are changed. 

“So I think it will be a little bit messy,” she added. 

A newly naturalised German citizen holds his certificate of naturalisation

A newly naturalised German citizen holds his certificate of naturalisation. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

When it comes to the day-to-day issues like the staffing and management of the Citizenship Offices (Einbürgerungsbehörden), these are further out of the federal government’s control, as they tend to be run by the municipalities. 

“But this is something we’ll have to take into account when changing the law,” Jurisch said. 

Despite the potential waiting times, many migrants are simply happy to see a shift under the traffic-coalition from policies that have made many feel shut-out of German society to policies that have made them feel more welcome – and more seen.

“It’s a major shift in policy, to try to say we are an immigrant society,” Jurisch said. “And to say that we must make sure that people can become German citizens more easily if they want to.” 

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