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The New Immigrant Elite in German Local Politics


The article investigates some consequences of immigration on urban politics. On the basis of original data, it first discusses to what extent the councils of big German cities reflect the new immigration-related diversity of the population. Second, it asks to what extent the elected immigrant officials mirror the immigrant population. The article aims to contribute to a better understanding of the selectivity of political careers in diverse societies by addressing immigration-related factors.

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  1. A couple of studies have now provided analyses of developments on the national and regional level (Geiger and Spohn, 2001; Fonseca, 2011; Wüst and Heinz, 2009; Schönwälder, 2010).

  2. Own calculations based on microcensus estimates for 2009, without city states, based on Statistisches Bundesamt (2010). ‘Migration background’ is the official terminology in Germany and refers to residents with foreign citizenship, the naturalized, ethnic German immigrants and the children of these groups. In this article, ‘immigrant’, ‘immigrant councilor’ etc. refers to the first and second generation.

  3. The city states Bremen, Hamburg, Berlin were excluded as their status as regional states implies different political frameworks with potential consequences on immigrant incorporation (e.g. more competition for seats, no EU voting rights).

  4. We do not restrict the scope of the study to particular groups (like non-Europeans) but include all immigrants.

  5. Amsterdam already in 1998 came close to statistical representation, while in Den Haag and Utrecht the parliamentary presence exceeded the immigrant share in the population (van Helsum, 2001: 5). In England, ethnic minorities in Birmingham were, in 1993, represented roughly according to their numbers (Garbaye, 2005: 108). In Oslo's city council elected in 2007, ‘non-Western’ minorities were represented according to their population share (Bergh and Bjorklund, 2011: 134).

  6. For details on all cities, see Schönwälder et al (2011).

  7. The share of the second generation has grown in the past decade, a development that possibly reflects the ageing of that generation. The average age of immigrant councillors is forty-four. All data reported in this section are based on our own analysis of the socio-demographic characteristics of the councillors and the results of our survey.

  8. The doctoral dissertation by Daniel Volkert will further explore differences between German and French parties, an issue that has as yet not been investigated.

  9. In Frankfurt on Main, 80 per cent of the immigrant councillors have university degrees, while among non-immigrant councillors the share is 65 per cent. As many other cities do not provide detailed biographies of councillors on their websites we cannot tell how representative this picture is.

  10. All figures are based on microcensus estimates. Breakdowns are only available for some cities. The microcensus comprises 1 per cent of all households.

  11. Those from Russia and Kazakhstan alone have been estimated to number about one-fifth of the immigrant electorate (Federal Election Commissioner, 2009). There are no exact figures for ethnic German immigrants. Those from former Yugoslavia number about 1.5 million, that is around 10 per cent of the whole immigrant population.

  12. On long-term effects of home country socialization see Wong et al (2008: 88).

  13. There are about 1.5 million residents of Asian and 0.5 million of African background in Germany (here without ethnic Germans from Kazachstan). Asians in Germany are mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and the Middle East. Available figures are estimates based on the microcensus.

  14. Membership figures are not available.


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schönwälder, k., sinanoglu, c. & volkert, d. The New Immigrant Elite in German Local Politics. Eur Polit Sci 12, 479–489 (2013).

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  • local politics
  • immigrant representation
  • Germany
  • councillors