'A new beginning': What to expect from Germany's coalition government
Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party are leaving Germany’s ruling government after 16 years in power. Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new leader, was officially elected German chancellor in a Bundestag vote on Wednesday, 8 December.
A new agreement from the country’s new ruling coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Greens, and Free Democratic Party (FDP) outlines what to expect in the months and years to follow, including a streamlined path to citizenship, an improved asylum process, and more resources for migrants.
The 177-page document arrived on 24 November after nearly two months of negotiations between the three parties. It sets Germany’s political agenda for the next five years across a range of key issues, including the economy, foreign affairs, defence, and the environment.
For now, nothing is binding.
“These are just ideas, not developed policies,” Dr Marcus Engler, a researcher at the German Center for Integration and Migration Research, told The New Arab. “In many cases, we can’t be sure exactly what will happen. We’ll have to wait for the policy proposals.”
Here are some of the key elements of the 51,000-word agreement.
"A new agreement from the country's ruling coalition sets Germany's political agenda for the next five years across a range of key issues, including the economy, foreign affairs, defence, and the environment"
'Modern citizenship laws'
Plans to overhaul Germany’s restrictive citizenship rules will impact millions of migrants and their children.
The agreement promises a “new beginning” for migration policy in Germany and singles out the contributions made by migrants to the country, particularly the so-called “guest worker” generation.
“By saying they recognise what migrants brought to Germany, there’s already a different and more positive spin [than previous governments],” says Dr Engler.
Under the coalition’s proposed changes, migrants to Germany will be eligible for citizenship after five years, down from the current eight. In some cases, such as when a migrant is deemed to have integrated especially well, currently due to advanced German language skills, it may be reduced to three years.
The agreement also promises to allow dual citizenship, something that has so far only been possible in rare cases, such as when their home country does not allow citizens to renounce their citizenship, or when doing so would be especially costly.
As seen during Germany’s most recent elections in September, millions of long-term residents are unable to vote. The proposed changes seek to change that.
“It’s a huge democratic deficit if 10 million residents can’t participate in elections, because they don't have the right,” Dr Engler says. “That might not be a big problem for people who just arrived, but it’s a problem for any democracy if you have people living in your country for years and can’t vote.”
In recent years, Germany has become a country of mass immigration, particularly since outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the borders to more than one million refugees, mostly from Syria.
The proposed changes reflect that shift, stepping further away from the laws that stopped some children even born in Germany from gaining citizenship.
According to the document, children born in Germany to foreign parents will become citizens from birth, provided at least one parent has resided in Germany for at least five years. Until now, the children of many of the Turkish migrants who arrived to fill Germany’s labour shortages did not secure German citizenship, as it required them to choose between Germany and Turkey.
The agreement suggests the “guest worker generation” of the 1960s and 1970s was not sufficiently supported in matters of integration. The coalition proposes lowering the language requirement for this group to become citizens, given that many were not offered German courses after their relocation to Germany.
Crucially, new arrivals to Germany will, in some cases, have immediate access to the labour market, rather than having to wait for separate approval and fulfil certain requirements.
Presently, asylum seekers who arrive in Germany face several hurdles before they are allowed to work. Self-employment is also heavily restricted.
The coalition also aims to implement a quicker asylum process, helped by approved digitisation.
“With policies like these, Germany would be one of the most liberal countries in Europe in terms of immigration, and perhaps the world,” says Dr Engler.
"Germany is currently one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Middle East"
Muslim life and the far-right
The coalition agreement recognises Germany’s diverse Muslim community and promises support for Islamic organisations, such as youth clubs.
It acknowledges an increasing threat posed by the far-right and says it will counter this threat with more money spent on prevention and support for victims.
It says the rising far right is the greatest threat to German democracy and pledges to combat “all forms of extremism”, including Islamism.
War in Yemen
The coalition wants to stop weapons export to all countries involved in the Yemen war.
Germany is currently one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Middle East. In 2020 alone, it approved €1.16 billion in arms exports to countries involved in Yemen and Libya’s conflicts.
Israel and Palestine
In keeping with previous governments, the coalition agreement says that the security of Israel is in the Staatsräson, or “national interest”. The coalition reiterates Germany’s support for the two-state solution on the basis of 1967 borders.
Germany has maintained a “special relationship” with Israel since the end of the Nazi era, during which an estimated six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Without mentioning Palestine specifically, other than reiterating financial support for refugees, the document condemns what it calls terror attacks against Israelis and anti-Semitism motivated by criticism of Israel, which it says takes place in the United Nations.
"In keeping with previous governments, the coalition agreement says that the security of Israel is in the Staatsräson, or 'national interest'"
The coalition also expresses support for the continued normalisation between Israel and Arab states. So far, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco have agreed to normalise ties.
The strong language around Israel reflects the hostility often directed towards Germany’s pro-Palestinian voices. In 2018, the German parliament voted to condemn the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, while Germany’s state-owned broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, has been accused of censoring Palestinians.
Germany is the world’s second-biggest arms exporter to Israel and the two countries carry out regular training exercises together. In 2020, Germany approved €582 million worth of weapons sales to Israel.
Matt Unicomb is a news and culture journalist based in Berlin, where he's currently the online editor of Exberliner
Follow him on Twitter: @MattUnicomb