The first case to be examined involves the Süssmuth commission, or formally the Independent Commission on Migration to Germany (ICM).
5.3.1 Background to the Süssmuth Commission: ‘kein Einwanderungsland’
Germany was one of the last Western European countries to formulate immigration and immigrant integration policies. This was due to the normative belief that Germany was not and should not be a country of immigration, i.e. ‘Kein Einwanderungsland’ (see also Heckmann, this volume). It was not until the end of the Millennium that the coalition government of Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green Party introduced draft legislation for a fundamental reform of citizenship law, introducing ius soli elements and the possibility for children born to foreigners in Germany to hold two citizenships. Two migration-related topics came up in public discourse at the turn of the millennium. The first was the demographic ageing of the German population and the associated risks for social security systems. As early as 1994, a group of scholars had suggested that immigration might balance the demographic problem at least to some extent (Bade 1994: 30). In the same vein, a parliamentary commission had investigated the issue since 1992 and stated that in the long run Germany might be in need of several million immigrants. A policy would therefore have to be formulated (Schneider 2010: 169). Secondly, employers’ associations and stakeholders in information and communication technology pushed the issue of labour shortages onto the agenda, lobbying for a more liberal approach to admitting qualified personnel from third countries.Footnote 1
When this window of opportunity opened, Chancellor Schröder announced in February 2000 the introduction of a ‘Greencard’, allowing for labour migration of up to 20,000 high-skilled specialists in areas such as the IT sector. The new Greencard recruitment scheme envisaged temporary work and residence permits only, and received overwhelming support. However, it proved to be successful as symbolic politics only: as a matter of fact, administrative regulations created by the Ministries of Interior and Labour, pragmatically implemented ‘backstage’ by bureaucrats, turned out to be more effective and sustainable in facilitating labour mobility (Kolb 2005).
As the Greencard had provided vital momentum to the politicised migration discourse, Schröder and Interior Minister Otto Schily took a pro-active stance by appointing an ‘Independent Commission on Migration to Germany’ (ICM), evading the risk of yet another defeat by ‘passing the buck’ to 21 external experts and stakeholders.Footnote 2 The Commission received the task to work out concrete recommendations for future immigration policy and, among other things, to present a concept of integration (ICM 2001: 20). The composition, agenda and budget of the ICM were predominantly government-controlled, with the Ministry of the Interior being the driving force. Schily landed a brilliant coup by getting CDU member and popular former President of the German Bundestag Rita Süssmuth to chair the commission. Highly esteemed elder statesman Hans-Jochen Vogel, former Federal Minister of Justice and parliamentary party leader of the SPD, became deputy chairperson. Beyond this, a well-balanced cast of public figures from political parties, foundations, trade unions, industry associations, religious communities, municipal associations and academia promised to provide what the government asked for: a consensus concept able to reframe public discourse, bind opponents and substantiate reform.
The initiative was acclaimed by the Green coalition partner, within the scientific community and in most op-ed pages. Moreover, opposition parties found themselves placed in a tight spot as Schily had managed to include renowned members from both the CDU and the FDP. However, the CDU did not really adopt a constructive position, as it instantly established its own alternative commission on migration. This was not solely due to the fact that, at the time, reformist and liberal politicians had internally gained the upper hand when it came to conceptualising migration policies. It was also because of the potential risks to a centre-right party’s legitimacy, which are associated with anti-immigrant mobilisation in a period of relative societal receptiveness towards immigration – jeopardising conservative values, internal policy coherence and credibility among constituencies due to gaps between restrictionist rhetoric and political realities (Boswell and Hough 2008: 333 et seq.). As the ICM started its deliberations over all aspects of migration policy after the summer break, so did special task commissions and working groups set up by almost all political parties, forming a genuine rivalry of advisory bodies, and at the same time operating as internal policy formulation tools (Schneider 2010: 221–229, 234–237).
5.3.2 Engineering Consensus
The Süssmuth Commission, endowed with substantial political capital and wide media interest, attempted to fulfil its mission to engineer a broad consensus by following a clear strategy. First, it rejected the attempts of the Interior Ministry – which hosted and partly staffed the commission’s secretariat – to influence the Commission’s agenda or the contents of its upcoming report, thus actively guarding its independence. In fact, it was agreed at an early stage that all discussions would remain closed and confidential, and that only occasionally the chair would release information to the media (Schneider 2010). Second, as many external stakeholders and experts as possible were to be consulted, in order to gather relevant knowledge and safeguard the commission’s legitimacy and approval of its results.Footnote 3 A total of 143 representatives from ministries and bureaucracies, scholarly and advisory institutions, as well as practitioners and experts from schools, the civil service, social partners, NGOs and the EU gave testimony in front of the commission; 18 expert opinion reports were solicited from a number of institutes and academics; and seminars were held with the Commissioners for Foreigners’ Issues of the Federal States (Länder), with representatives of the political parties, and with judges from the Federal Constitutional and Administrative Court (ICM 2001: 290–306).
The commission itself gathered for 13 plenary sessions and a total of 27 meetings in three separate working groups. The first group looked into legal aspects of migrant and asylum policies, the second debated future immigration policy from demographic and labour market perspectives, and the third dealt with the variegated issues pertaining to integration and social inclusion. In their internal proceedings, commission members performed an almost exemplary consensus building process (Susskind 2006: 284 ff) by deliberating extensively and deciding unanimously.
Despite initial controversies and differing viewpoints, explicit minority reports were avoided. Externally, the commission was successful in its mediating function, integrating and binding stakeholders (Zinterer 2004: 299). On the eve of the commission concluding its work, even a broad cross-party political consensus along the lines of the draft report seemed possible (Schneider: 2010: 269). The other competing forums and commissions had more or less terminated their work in the summer of 2001, and the Süssmuth Commission promised to provide an overall synthesis in July 2001.
5.3.3 A New Integration Policy and an Immigration Strategy
‘Germany needs immigrants’ was not only the first stark sentence of the commission’s report, but also the most explicit message conveying to the public what was deemed a consensus among key political and societal actors. Under the heading ‘Structuring Immigration, Fostering Integration’, the commission presented in more than 300 pages a thorough account of past policies and empirical evidence and statistical data on the impact of immigration in Germany. The suggestions in the areas of immigration, asylum and integration formed an overall plan that was embedded in an evolving European migration system. The key feature of this Gesamtkonzept,Footnote 4 which the commission hoped to transpose into a ‘Federal Immigration and Integration Act’ (ICM 2001: 266–270), was the strategy for immigration geared to meet future demographic and labour market needs, thereby ‘securing long-term prosperity’ (ibid).
Under the main heading ‘Living in harmony with one another’, the commission propagated a new integration policy, conceding that the former policy of ‘pragmatic improvisation’ had led to significant successes. Yet, the absence of a systematic and comprehensive approach was deemed responsible for difficulties in integrating immigrants into the host country (ICM 2001: 195).
Rhetorically, the commission came up with nothing less than a new frame for integration that implied a balanced precept for action, dovetailing formerly incongruous positions: ‘For a long time, Germany held the one-sided view that, as the host country, it could expect ethnic and cultural assimilation from its immigrants. We speak of something different when we discuss integration today. […] In modern usage, the term integration describes a process that depends on reciprocal contributions that both the host and the immigrant society make. […] The principle of ‘promoting and demanding’ demonstrates the reciprocity of this relationship. While the host country is required to provide sufficient opportunities for integration, the immigrant must endeavour to learn the German language and become integrated’ (ICM 2001: 196, 254). Thus, the report took position between two perceived extreme scenarios – the chimera of increasing cultural fragmentation through the emergence of separatist ethnic groups in ‘parallel societies’ as a result of a laissez-faire form of multiculturalism, and the strongly assimilationist Leitkultur model of integration, demanding from immigrants a unilateral adaptation to the values and culture of the German host society.
The Süssmuth Commission held that migrant and host society expectations were equally important: those who have newly arrived need to feel accepted and welcome, and mere toleration will have negative effects. On the other hand, recognition of the constitution and immigrants’ willingness to learn the language and integrate were considered indispensable prerequisites. In general, however, the new frame set out for integration was both more inclusive and universalist. The latter could be depicted, for instance, through the fact that the report ‘made clear that promoting integration was the driving consideration in its approach towards citizenship policy, and stressed that a policy aimed at this goal must be treated as part of any immigration strategy.’ (Klusmeyer and Papademetriou 2009: 248). Thus, in order for immigrants to acquire political rights, the commission favoured a more generous approach to awarding German citizenship and accepting dual nationality (ICM 2001: 244). In a similar vein, granting municipal voting rights to third-country nationals was proposed.
In total, there were about 50 individual recommendations for a new integration policy. With many of these, the commission borrowed from Swedish and Dutch integration policies.Footnote 5 Of greatest salience, both for newcomers as well as for longer-term residents without sufficient language competencies, the commission suggested uniform integration courses of at least 600 h. Besides the primary goal of fostering language acquisition, these courses were to provide an introduction to the legal-political system as well as employment and training.
5.3.4 Swansong for Policy Reform?
The authors of the ICM report, as well as an influential background report, had called for better policymaking through the use of statistics, evidence and evaluation, particularly with regard to demographic trends and future labour shortages. The commission report with its Gesamtkonzept was a straightforward expression of this endeavour, which immediately took root in media, public discourse and among policymakers. When Interior Minister Schily presented a first draft of a new Immigration Act in August 2001, taking on board several (though far from all) of the commission’s proposals, this was at odds with almost all of the actors involved (Green 2004: 123). Schily found himself caught between two camps. He had to please both the Greens as coalition partner in the Bundestag and the State Governments represented in the Bundesrat for later approval. In the latter, however, the parties forming the Federal Government coalition did not have a clear majority. Furthermore, the timing of the Süssmuth report and Schily’s draft bill proved unfortunate, with the events of September 11 complicating and setting back governmental as well as parliamentary negotiations over the Immigration Act. Anti-terror legislation in the form of ‘Security Packages’, which anticipated some of the highly controversial aspects to be regulated in the new Immigration Act, absorbed lawmakers’ time and capacities. Thus, as time wore on, the chances for consensual legislation dwindled as parties began to prepare their campaigns for the Federal parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2002.
In January, the conservative parties selected CSU leader Edmund Stoiber as chancellor candidate. He advocated a much stricter line in relation to migration and integration, falling short of the positions manifested via the CDU commission (Green 2004: 123–124; Hell 2005: 155). The Christian Democratic opposition soon rejected the bid to discuss migration policies on a more technocratic, rationally informed basis (Boswell 2009: 169). Rather, they picked up on diffuse anxieties within the majority population, which involved a degree of scepticism towards any new channels for immigration.Footnote 6 When it came to negotiating with the government, the Christian Democrats, who gradually came under the aegis of the Bavarian CSU and its designated chancellor candidate Stoiber, distanced themselves from former positions and shifted to straightforward opposition, ‘flagrantly slapping their own concepts in the face’.Footnote 7
After intensive negotiations and in view of the parties’ preparations for the election campaign, the Bundestag had to quickly pass a much-revised bill, with the Bundesrat approving the act in a furious and controversial vote in March 2002, which was later declared unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court (ibid.: 126). Thus, the 2001/2002 Immigration Act, which had omitted the commissions’ proposals in a number of areas already, failed as it never came to force and had to be reintroduced to the parliamentary process after Federal elections (with SPD and Greens forming a second coalition government) in early 2003.
In the negotiations over the second Immigration Act, which stretched over yet another two years, the report of the Süssmuth Commission ended up playing barely any role at all. Instead, policymaking followed a familiar path with the main actors retreating to their ‘old’ frames on immigration and integration.Footnote 8 This was well epitomised by one of the respondents’ observation that drafting a compromise act on immigration was challenging as trying to ‘rewrite the Criminal Code into the Civil Code’.Footnote 9 In the view of Klusmeyer and Papademetriou (2009), the second Immigration Act, which eventually passed in the summer of 2004, failed both to break with the exclusionary model of immigrant integration and to reconceptualise the German migration policy framework: the new law neither created a system to facilitate the immigration of those wishing to work in Germany whose skills were needed, nor established a system that would sufficiently integrate new immigrants or those already living in migrant communities (ibid.: 255).
5.3.5 Immediate Frame-Setting, Medium-Term Reframing
The internal frame reflection performed by the Süssmuth Commission was to rub off on the general discourse and create momentum for a new balanced frame and a general political consensus on migration policy reform. This turned out to be a perspicuous misconception. The commission’s reframing of integration was largely overshadowed by unresolved underlying frame conflicts over immigration and asylum, causing severe political controversy. The rational socio-economic focus of the Süssmuth commission was at odds with the much more socio-cultural focus of the CDU/CSU that articulated public concerns about the societal impact of migration and the preservation of German ‘Leitkultur’ (Boswell 2009; Green 2004). Also problematic was the commission’s inclusive, recognition- and rights-based frame on immigrant integration, which had never been embraced by the Christian Democratic parties or much of their support base.
Rather than triggering a process of critical reflection about these different frames, the commission had chosen a specific frame, thereby dissociating itself from the multiplicity of frames present in both political and scientific debates. When the commission’s frame came to blows with the realities of the policymaking process in a competitive system of party politics, particularly around the general election of 2002, the rational-positivist reasoning of the commission lost its appeal as a guide for policy re-design. At the same time, the political system displayed patterns of path dependency by demonstrating that final approval of a contested policy issue like immigration and integration can only be reached through mediated compromises within an informal ‘grand coalition’.
Nevertheless, the commission’s deliberations and the much broader public and political debate over migration policy marked a significant shift in the history of German Ausländerpolitik, as Simon Green concluded already at the end of the year 2002 (when the Federal Constitutional Court had just prevented the first Immigration Act from coming into force): ‘Politically, the emphasis is no longer simply on the blanket restriction of immigration, but on the management of immigration and integration to Germany’s best interest. For a country whose government was, as late as mid-1998, arguing that Germany was not a country of immigration, this has represented a remarkable turnaround.’ (Green 2004: 128/129).
As regards immigrant integration, the Immigration Act of 2004/2005 implemented the language and orientation courses that had been outlined by the ICM. Thus, the promulgation of a new frame on immigrant integration by the Süssmuth Commission can be traced not only to a number of practical measures, but also to the general approach towards the issue. As Klaus Bade has pointed out: ‘When it comes to the conceptual fostering of immigrant inclusion, government did not awake from the dead but through the preparatory considerations by the Independent Commission on Migration.’ (Bade 2007: 37). Yet such frame shifts towards a new overall and comprehensive integration policy that the Süssmuth Commission had favoured occurred only gradually. Thus, the regulations that had materialised in the Residence Act were merely one building block in a set of further integration concepts, which were only drafted in the years following legislation. Since March 2005, an inter-ministerial working group has met to ‘coordinat[e] federal policy projects in the area of integration […] and to further develop these into a comprehensive concept.’ Preparations for a Federal Integration Programme resumed in 2003 and the 2005 coalition agreement of the CDU/CDU and SPD (forming the first Grand Coalition at the federal level in decades) declared integration as a ‘cross-cutting task involving many areas of policy’.Footnote 10 New forums aiming to facilitate consultation, frame reflection and discussion included the so-called integration summits, organised by the Federal Chancellery, and the German Islam Conference under the direction of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (Musch 2011).
The Süssmuth Commission was not fully successful in its attempts at frame reflection. It did, however, trigger different individual processes of questioning, debating and adapting frames within a new discourse culture on migration issues. One example is the CDU, which was entrenched behind the distorted frame of ‘kein Einwanderungsland’ until the end of the 1990s. Apparently, a process of internal frame reflection had been initiated within the CDU at an early stage, paralleling the work of the Süssmuth Commission. A ‘major revision of their positions’ was undertaken by stating, as a result of internal deliberations in a separate commission, that there was a need for controlled immigration to Germany (Heckmann 2003: 53). And members of the CDU commission on immigration themselves gave discursive meaning to the establishment of the Süssmuth Commission and the other consultative bodies at the time: ‘This was probably the most important result of all this commission work: Removing the taboos from the issue – eventually one was allowed to say that indeed there were substantial deficits in integration, that there are ‘imported’ problems with regard to domestic security. Eventually one was allowed to say, […] that immigration to Germany of people from other cultural backgrounds differs from immigration we had after the Second World War. What is most interesting was that this debate was quite sober and down-to-earth.’Footnote 11
However, new frame conflicts evolved and fierce negotiations are on the agenda time and again in German immigrant integration policy. In the years preceding the Süssmuth Commission, such conflicts appeared intractable. In the aftermath of the ‘commissions galore’ phase, policies have undergone reframing and are frequently debated based on a common rationale (or issue consensus). To quite some degree, the prevalent divergences between political camps over integration boil down to continuously contradicting frames with regard to citizenship, loyalty and inclusion: ‘According to conservative positions, naturalisation was (and is) a final and formal step at the end of the process of integration: integrate first, then apply for naturalisation. For liberals and the left, naturalisation should not be withheld until immigrants prove worthy of it; naturalisation might considerably facilitate integration: naturalise, then integrate.’ (Davy 2005: 141).
Furthermore, one should never neglect the institutional and discursive opportunity structures. In the German case, frame conflicts over immigration and integration could not be resolved as political actors proved unable to perform thorough frame-reflection on the spot. Being in a situation of practically constant electoral campaigning due to varying election days across Federal and State (Länder) levels (Wewer 1999), political parties have a hard time following two of the key imperatives as pinpointed by Rein and Schön: the willingness and capability to adapt one’s frame if necessary, and the ability to put trust into a communicative situation and towards one’s argumentative counterpart (be it a parliamentary debate or ‘behind-closed-doors’ negotiations during high-level talks).