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IMMIGRATION

What Germany’s coalition plans mean for immigration and citizenship

Germany's SPD, Greens and FDP are going to start formal coalition talks. Here's what their initial plans set out for immigration to the country, and citizenship laws.

People walk in Hamburg near the Elbe river earlier in October.
People walk in Hamburg near the Elbe river earlier in October. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Markus Scholz

The three parties involved – the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) – aim to enter into formal coalition negotiations in the coming weeks.

On Friday, the parties’ leadership and main election candidates unveiled their initial agreement on how they see the future of Germany. You can read an overview of the key points here:

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: What Germany’s three parties in coalition talks have agreed

So what about how the plans could affect foreigners in Germany or those who plan to come here in future? The draft gives a flavour of what the possible future German coalition would do. 

Immigration reform

The parties come across as immigration friendly – and it looks like they will overhaul the immigration system in a bid to attract skilled workers to plug the job shortage.

“Germany is a modern immigration country,” the SPD, Greens and FDP state. “Women and men from many countries have found their home here, started families and earn their living. Therefore, we want to create a modern citizenship law.

The three parties are generally in favour of easier routes to citizenship and changes to Germany’s strict dual citizenship laws.

“Those who are well integrated in Germany and can support themselves should be able to obtain a legally secure residence status more quickly. We want to make it possible to change lanes and improve integration opportunities,” the paper states. 

READ ALSO: 

According to the paper, the SPD, the Greens and the FDP want to introduce a points-based system for immigrants. This could work along the lines of similar systems in Canada, Australia or the UK.

This sees non-citizens looking for work earn points for things like education, language fluency, earnings or job offers. If they meet a certain score, they are allowed into the country.

Germany’s Skilled Immigration Act, which is aimed at easing restrictions and red tape for qualified professionals when migrating to Germany through simplified visa applications, came into force in March 2020.

READ ALSO: 10 things you need to know about Germany’s new law to attract skilled foreign workers

This law will be changed in some way, because the coalition parties say they want to make it “more practical”.

“We also want to introduce a points system as a second pillar for attracting qualified skilled workers,” they said.

Citizenship and catering to a ‘diverse society’

The coalition parties say they recognise that Germany is a “modern country, with great diversity in society”. 

“We see this diversity as an opportunity and want to organise fair participation in all areas and clearly oppose discrimination,” they said. 

The Greens' Annalena Baerbock, the SPD's Olaf Scholz and the FDP's Christian Lindner talk at a press conference on Friday.
The Greens’ Annalena Baerbock, the SPD’s Olaf Scholz and the FDP’s Christian Lindner talk at a press conference on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

The SPD, Greens and FDP are adamant that they want to change laws. 

“To this end, we will, among other things, adapt the law on citizenship, family law, the law on parentage and the transsexual law as well as the regulations on reproductive medicine and, for example, make shared communities of responsibility or a pact for living together possible.”

READ ALSO: Germany needs 500,000 new immigrants every year, says politician

What else do the coalition parties say when it comes to laws and safety?

Alongside pushing for “more preventative security” to make sure everyone in Germany feels safe “whether on the street, at home or online”, the parties also mention taking a hardline against people who commit hate crimes. 

“We will take resolute action in all areas against anti-Semitism, racism, right-wing extremism, Islamism, left-wing extremism, queer hostility and every other form of hostility, so that diversity and security is possible for everyone,” says the draft paper.

The parties say they will “strengthen women’s right to self-determination and promote independent livelihoods”.

“We want women and men to be able to participate equally in social decision-making and in working life, and to be in an equal position to secure their own livelihoods and provide for their old age,” they said.

“We want to counteract the discrimination of women in the labour market and improve the compatibility of family and work. We want to effectively reduce wage inequality between women and men. We will work for more diversity in the world of work and ensure that more women get into leadership positions.”

The initial agreement also states that they want to “expand the participation of citizens with disabilities – in the labour market and by promoting accessibility in everyday life, in housing and in the digital space”.

They also want to lower the voting age from 18 to 16.

Is this set in stone?

No. This is an initial agreement but when the coalition talks go ahead, there may be changes down the line to some aspects. 

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For members

2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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