The discussions were meant to tie the country’s 16 million people with an “immigration background” closer to German society. It was the fourth such event since 2006, but this time it has attracted more attention as a result of an acrid immigration debate.
Speaking after the summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her recent comments that multiculturalism had failed. She said diversity had made Germany stronger but that immigrants must be better integrated.
“What I mean to say is that for years, for decades, the approach was that integration was not something that needed to be addressed, that people would live side-by-side and that it would sort itself out by itself,” Merkel said.
“This turned out to be false. What in fact is needed is a political effort and an effort by society as a whole to make integration happen … Diversity in society is something that has always made our country stronger.”
The conservative Christian Democrat also said that immigrants and their descendants had to speak German in order to play a role in society and live up to German “values.”
“This is something that I see as being the opposite of what I meant by multiculturalism,” Merkel told reporters.
Ahead of the integration summit, federal integration commissioner Maria Böhmer had echoed the chancellor’s comments.
“Ambiguity doesn’t help integration and neither does masking problems,” she told national broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.
The centre-right government has been right to take a stand for both demanding and supporting integration, she said. “We want one to understand diversity in our country as a chance and not a burden,” she said.
The integration summit launched a national action plan for improved measurement of immigration initiatives.
The main theme of this year’s meeting was the improved recognition of foreign educational and professional qualifications to give potential immigrants better job prospects in Germany.
During the first summit in 2006, immigrant leaders and German politicians shared a table for the first time. The second event closed with leaders on both sides agreeing to some 400 voluntary commitments.
The third summit set the goal of lowering the number of school drop-outs with immigrant background from 12 to six percent – the same level as that of German students.
Ahead of the discussions, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger had also called for an end to the deportation of well-integrated juveniles.
“We can’t seriously discuss controlled immigration while simultaneously banishing those who fulfil all of the requirements of successful integration,” the pro-business Free Democrat told daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
These young people, who have often established a solid position in German society through their own hard work should instead have a “concrete prospect of naturalisation,” she told the paper.
The constant threat of deportation is intolerable for those who have long called Germany their home, she said.
“A change in residency law is past due,” she said.