Angela Merkel tried to get into the spirit of things by declaring that multiculturalism has “failed, absolutely failed.” On so-called "guest workers", whose descendants make up a large share of the immigrant population: “We kidded ourselves that they wouldn't stay, but that's not the reality.” These were platitudes dressed up as epiphanies to suit the populist mood. But Mrs Merkel does not really do populism. While bashing multiculturalism she also admitted that Islam is “part of Germany.”A new arrival can learn German, and can adopt some of the habits of mainstream Germans. But that person will never be ethnically German.
The chancellor's ambivalence is the key to understanding where Germany is right now. The fact is that for several decades the country did expect workers from Turkey and elsewhere to leave like polite guests. It then flirted with the multi-kulti idea that they could dwell in Germany without fully belonging to it. Recently Germans, or at least the political class, had begun to accept that Germany is an “immigration country” with a responsibility to integrate immigrants fully into national life. Mrs Merkel has made this a hallmark of her chancellorship, holding “integration summits” and developing a “national integration plan”, which mandates German language courses and seeks to shepherd immigrants into employment. The new conventional wisdom is that integration is a “two-way street”, making demands on both hosts and newcomers.
Will [new arrivals] be told to embrace the German Leitkultur (“leading culture”), as some conservatives demand? That sounds like a reasonable request, but to many immigrants it smacks of arrogance. Will Muslims be forced to choose between practising their religion and adopting a German identity? That would be both unreasonable and self-destructive. Or will politicians speak out for the give and take, the bundle of benefits and obligations, that can make immigration tolerable for both sides?On the other hand, a new arrival to the United States can buy into the land of opportunity notion before learning English, or becoming a fan of the Green Bay Packers. That makes it easier for the host country to culturally appropriate the food or the music as need be. Plus freedom of religion.
And we're probably seeing, as the essay suggested five years ago, that falling birth rates plus generous welfare states don't coexist.
German business is clamouring for more immigration, regardless of where it comes from, so long as the newcomers have useful skills. The government is working on a law that would make it easier for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants in Germany with professional qualifications to have them recognised so that they can do something more rewarding than cleaning houses.That's before the arrival, in the past six months, of refugees probably less well endowed with professional qualifications and academic skills.
All this is fine. But perhaps government ought to be moving faster. Welfare makes it too easy to do nothing; schools have to do a better job of bringing pupils with foreign backgrounds up to academic speed.