Merkel freezes Germany’s debate over new immigration law

Bundestag faction chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), Thomas Oppermann. [Deutscher Bundestag]

Germany’s Social Democratic Party is calling for an immigration law that would control the influx of workers from non-EU countries with the help of a point system, similar to that in Canada, but Chancellor Angela Merkel is cutting the debate short, saying the refugee issue is more urgent. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has put on the brakes in the debate over an immigration law in Germany.

“What is more urgent at the moment is the issue of the many refugees that we have. According to everything we can foresee, the number will be higher this year,” Merkel said on Tuesday (3 March) in Berlin.

The centre-right alliance and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) are working “very, very well” together to accomplish this task, she indicated. “For this reason I want to get some common ground, with regard to the issue of refugees,” said the Chancellor, who hails from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Together, the CDU and its smaller Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) make up the centre-right alliance (Union) in Germany’s political party system.

Regarding the proposal of SPD faction head Thomas Oppermann for an immigration law, Merkel only commented that it must be examined. But since this is not a part of the coalition agreement, there is likewise no conflict within the grand coalition, she said.

“Now we will look at what can be done in connection with immigration. First, I have to form an opinion on it,” she continued. Previously, the centre-right alliance’s leadership rejected Oppermann’s proposals for an immigration law with a point system.

Oppermann officially presented his plan on Tuesday. He called for more incentives to promote long-term immigration of skilled workers. Germany will only overcome the demographically-driven decline in the labour supply “if we are able to keep immigration at the same level it was in recent years”, Oppermann’s position paper reads.

In the paper, he calls for an immigration law that would drive immigration of workers from non-EU countries by means of a point system, similar to the system used by Canada. Selection would be oriented according to age and education, as well as the demand for skilled workers.

Purely in terms of figures, Germany is expected to lose 6.7 million people of working age, Oppermann indicated in his 6-page paper, which was distributed Monday night.

Of course Germany’s own labour potential should be exhausted by increasing the number of women and seniors who are working and improving qualifications among young people, he explained.

“But at the same time, we must create better conditions for immigration of skilled workers from abroad,” Oppermann continued. “Both are necessary.”

The debate takes place amid a shortage of skilled workers, but also the upsurge in anti-Islamist demonstrations of the Pegida movement, which rejects immigration.

>>Read: Anti-Islam protests ‘tearing apart’ German society

With an immigration law, the SPD especially hopes to emphasise the importance of foreign workers for the German economy and shed a positive light on immigration. In 2014, Germany recorded the highest immigration rate in 22 years, with a net gain of 470,000 people mostly coming from EU member states. But the latter already enjoy full freedom of movement within the EU.

Germany’s latest immigration statistics show 1.23 million persons moved to Germany in 2013, a rate the country has not seen since 1993, causing Social Democrats and Greens to call for better regulation of immigration

The German government established a new committee in January to investigate the effects of so-called  "poverty immigration" from Bulgaria and Romania, amid complaints from overburdened cities. 

>> Read: Germany readies response to ‘poverty immigration’

After Bulgaria and Romania’s EU accession on 1 January 2007, most EU countries lifted the restrictions to their labour markets to workers from these countries.

But restrictions remained in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and the UK.

These countries required Bulgarian and Romanian citizens to have work permits before entering their territory.

According to the Bulgaria and Romania accession treaties, starting 1 January 2014, those restrictions were lifted everywhere in the Union.

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