Making a success of integration and diversity


Picture of Muhterem Aras
Muhterem Aras

Muhterem Aras is President of the Parliament in the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg

Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has experienced unprecedented prosperity and a longer period of peace than at any other time in its history. But there are many questions to which Europe has yet to offer answers. The consequences of the financial crisis are still being felt in many countries, and we haven’t developed a common response to the refugee crisis.

I believe we need more integrated Europe. So I was pleased, the day after the British chose to leave the European Union, to see the European flag flown at the Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg’s residence and over the State Government building. It was a gesture that underlined the state’s positive view of European integration and encouraged ordinary citizens to consider the
future of Europe for themselves. Our objective must be to stop the right-wing populists and their anti-European and anti-immigration forces, and strengthen democratic diversity.

Baden-Württemberg is one of the largest and most economically successful German federal states, home to global corporations such as Porsche, Daimler and Bosch. The success of our export
industry is highly dependent on the European single market and global open markets to which we can export our products. The state also benefits to a very large extent from the free movement of
workers in the EU.

The rise of the automotive and components industry in south-west Germany would never have been possible had it not been for the so-called “guest workers” who were recruited in the 1960s. Labour shortages at the time led to the signing of bilateral recruitment agreements with Italy, Greece and Turkey. It was originally thought that the guest workers would return home after a few years with a little know-how and some savings in their pocket. But many chose to stay and bring their families to Germany. My father was one who came to the region alone. After a few years, my parents decided the whole family should move too. As well as job prospects, my parents were keen to provide their children with a good education and better opportunities.

For the remaining member states, creating a functioning common immigration and asylum policy will be a key challenge in the post-Brexit EU

The “guest worker” model wasn’t successful because there was too little incentive to return: in Germany, working conditions and educational standards were drastically better than in the workers’ countries of origin. Today, there are still many foreigners from outside Europe who wish to send their children to school in Germany and reap the benefits of living in a free and democratic country. So there is an urgent need to find new ways of managing this phenomenon. We need a common and modern European immigration law, and more options for working or setting up subsidiaries in other countries.

As someone who was born in Turkey but lives in and identifies with Baden-Württemberg, I have experienced just how successful integration can be. Almost a third of the state’s 10.8 million people
have a migration background. Of these, 1.4 million are foreign citizens and just over 1.7 million are naturalised German citizens. More than 40% of foreign passport-holders in the state are from
elsewhere in the EU.
In the capital, Stuttgart, where I live and work, 39% of the city’s 600,000 inhabitants have a migration background. These members of our community enrich our cultural life and provide valuable
support to companies, helping them to be globally competitive. They fill gaps in a labour market that is dependent on international professionals. Recognising and promoting cultural, linguistic and
religious diversity can only reinforce our tolerant and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Despite, or perhaps precisely because of, the large number of people with a migration background in our population,
there is relatively little social and intercultural tension.

But there’s a danger that Brexit could weaken diversity in our multicultural community. Fear of being overrun by foreigners through uncontrollable immigration was an important reason for many British citizens to vote for Brexit. This was despite the overwhelmingly positive impact on the UK of the accessions of Romania and Bulgaria to the EU. Many high-skilled workers from these countries took advantage of freedom of movement to the benefit of both sides. In terms of freedom of movement, Brexit is bad news for the EU and for Baden-Württemberg.

It’s not only the option of working in the UK that’s at stake for EU citizens; restrictions may soon also apply to students and apprentices – with similar hurdles placed before British citizens who wish to study or work on the continent. The UK will now only gain access to the single market if it accepts the principle of freedom of movement between the EU and Britain. The precise timing for triggering Article 50 will not make any difference in that respect.

The immediate priority must be to stop people drowning in the Mediterranean, to step up humanitarian aid and to combat the smuggling of human beings

For the remaining member states, creating a functioning common immigration and asylum policy will be a key challenge in the post-Brexit EU. The European Commission has already tabled a number of proposals. The immediate priority must be to stop people drowning in the Mediterranean, to step up humanitarian aid and to combat the smuggling of human beings. We must provide more legal routes for migration to Europe.

I believe EU member states will find a solution only if they work together. National self-interest and go-it-alone initiatives will not solve anything. We must create a common strategy that provides
protection to all those fleeing war and political persecution, and inspires hope for development in their countries of origin. Whatever it does, the EU must never forget it is not just an economic bloc. It is also a community of values committed to democracy, the rule of law and, above all, human dignity.

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