Integration Act is a milestone says Chancellor
"The adoption of the Integration Act is a milestone," underscored Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday morning at the close of the two-day Cabinet meeting at its Meseberg retreat. Shortly before the Chancellor and the Federal Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel arrived at the press conference, the Cabinet had reached agreement on the Integration Act, which is based on the principle that the state provides assistance but equally expects incomers to do their bit for integration, Angela Merkel stressed.
Angela Merkel expects people to accept services offered
Germany offers asylum-seekers sound services to foster integration. In particular it is facilitating access to the job market and to integration courses. In this context, said the Chancellor, it is important that the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees and the Federal Employment Agency closely coordinate their activities. "But we also expect people to make use of these services, for more successful integration," explained the Chancellor. Lessons have been learned from the past, when people have failed to make use of the integration services on offer, she said.
A genuine paradigm shift, says Sigmar Gabriel
Federal Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel spoke of a "genuine paradigm shift in Germany". He designated the Integration Act as an "Immigration Act 1.0". The state is taking a pro-active stance and addressing every individual arriving in Germany. The message to asylum-seekers: "If you make an effort you can make it here." Easier access to the job and training markets for refugees is also a major step forward in economic terms. Angela Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel both praised the "Meseberg Declaration on Integration" (extracts printed below).
Learning from past mistakes
Language, work and, yes, a set of values are the three crucially important components in successful integration, said Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière on Wednesday morning at a joint press conference with Federal Labour Minister Andrea Nahles. All these points are reflected in the Integration Act.
He reported that the government has learned from past mistakes. People should not simply live side by side each in their own world. "We do not want to see any parallel societies and we do not want to see any ghettos," said Thomas de Maizière.
According to Andrea Nahles, the Integration Act offers a wide spectrum of effective job market services to refugees. "Many companies are open to these options although they almost certainly involve a lot of red tape and the details will not be that easy," said the Federal Labour Minister.
Discussing the issues that will shape the future
In Meseberg, the Chancellor reported, the Cabinet discussed immigration and digitalisation - the "classic issues for the future". With respect to digitalisation, the Cabinet had taken stock of "progress achieved to date in the implementation of the Digital Agenda". It is important to see how much has been achieved in terms of upgrading infrastructure, she said. And it must be ascertained what digitalisation means for industry. Specifically, Angela Merkel raised the issue of "driverless cars". This, she said, will "very rapidly lead to changes in the law".
Digitalisation affects every aspect of our life
The Cabinet also discussed the changes wrought by digitalisation in the working world. Angela Merkel reported that the focus is on lifelong learning and upgrading, as well as social safeguards and working time models. She pointed out that digitalisation is making itself felt "in every aspect of life" including family and professional life, health care and agriculture.
Federal Economic Affairs Minister Sigmar Gabriel issued a urgent plea for "European solutions" to the fundamental issues raised by digitalisation. He believes that new technologies should be seen as an excellent opportunity for Germany. As "the industrialiser of the world" Germany must hold its own against competitors from the USA and China, he said. One of the greatest challenges is to keep up with the breakneck pace of digitalisation in all sectors.
Meseberg Declaration on Integration (extracts)
- For successful integration it is indispensable that migrants learn German quickly, that they are swiftly integrated into training, tertiary studies and the job market, that they understand and respect the foundations on which German society is built, and that they respect the laws of the land.
- We are not starting from scratch in our efforts to address these issues. The principle of providing assistance but expecting incomers to do their bit is central to our integration-policy activities. Integration involves the offer of services, but it equally entails an obligation on the part of incomers to make an effort. Integration can only work as a two-way process.
- One guiding principle in our integration policy is justice, justice for those recognised as refugees here, and justice for the German people.
- Acquiring a sound command of the German language and an appreciation of the values of our society are a key foundation for successful integration into society and into education, training, tertiary study and the labour market. For this reason we will be improving access to integration courses. Incomers should learn German at as early a stage as possible.
- By allocating incomers to specific places of residence, it will be possible to more equally distribute people entitled to protection. At the same time this should serve to foster integration, avoid segregation that could obstruct integration efforts, and avoid the emergence of social hotspots.
- Integration measures should begin at an early stage. The labour market programme "Refugee integration measures" will use federal funding to create 100,000 additional job opportunities for individuals receiving benefits under the provisions of the Asylum-Seekers’ Benefits Act.
- We are also creating greater legal certainty for individuals with tolerated residence status and companies offering training places. In future, trainees will be assured of tolerated residence status for the entire duration of their training.
- Access to the labour market will be further eased. For a period of three years, the requirement to ascertain that no German or EU citizens are available for a vacancy before a non-EU citizen is employed is to be suspended for asylum-seekers and individuals with tolerated residence status, depending also on the rate of unemployment in the region in question and with the involvement of the individual federal states. This will also make it possible for this group to work as temporary workers.
- We have also laid down an obligation to cooperate on integration measures. Any individual refusing to participate in refugee integration measures or dropping out of such measures without good cause, will see their benefits under the Asylum-Seekers’ Benefits Act cut.
- We have also modified the benefits system under the Asylum-Seekers’ Benefits Act. In future certain misconduct will result in benefits being cut. It is to become more difficult to conceal relevant assets.
- In future individuals will be deemed to have a temporary residence permit when they are issued with the proof of arrival so as to eliminate uncertainties in practice to date. In this way we will ensure that asylum-seekers are given legally certain and early access to the labour market and to integration services, among other things.
- We will not accept attacks on women, children and other vulnerable individuals, whether they are citizens of our country or asylum-seekers and refugees.
- Asylum-seekers without good prospects of staying in Germany should also be given orientation during their stay in our country.
- Increasing the percentage of employees with a migrant background in German public authorities remains an important concern of the German government.
Click here for the full Meseberg Declaration (German only).