Who would refugees vote for? Recent immigrants to Germany observe the election

As Germany prepares to go to the polls, there are many inside the country who will not be able to cast a ballot on September 24th: roughly 10 million of Germany’s 82 million inhabitants do not hold German citizenship. Of these, 5.7 million residents have a non-EU nationality. (( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2017-06/auslaenderzentralregister-deutschland-auslaender-zuwanderung-gestiegen ))

No vote at the end of an immigration-centred campaign

Roughly 1.3 million men and women from outside the EU have arrived since 2014 – most of them refugees from Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. Whilst they will not be able to vote themselves, they have nevertheless figured prominently in political debates running up to the election, which displayed an ample (if often ill-informed) focus on immigration, crime and terrorism, as well as Islam.

In spite of their outsized presence in the electoral campaign, refugees’ own political leanings have remained by and large unexplored. In the last days prior to the vote, some of their voices are, however, being heard.

Disillusionment with a lack of opportunities

Two years after Chancellor Merkel’s momentous decision in early September 2015 to open Germany’s borders to refugees stuck on the Western Balkans route, the initial beneficiaries of this policy are by no means uniform in their view of the election.

For some, the journey through Germany’s immigration system and bureaucracy has been a thoroughly disillusioning experience. Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, Iraqi artist Akil expressed this dissatisfaction: “We are stuck in Germany”, he said. Whilst Merkel had opened the door to people fleeing war and misery, Germany’s rigid legal framework continued to prevent him gaining a foothold and starting a new life.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html ))

Continued support for Chancellor Merkel …

Disenchantment might also lead refugees to remain aloof from politics altogether, since different parties are perceived to be mirror images of each other. For some, politics is also a bête noire for other reasons: having lost friends and family to the ongoing conflict in his home country, Syrian Mohammed al-Naid asserted that “politics only brings trouble”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html ))

Yet for a large number of those who have come to Germany in recent years, Angela Merkel continues to be a much-respected and even revered persona. They stress the Chancellor’s willingness to take them in at a time when neighbouring states and Muslim-majority countries refused to step up in solidarity((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html )) – a sentiment shared among many in the Arab world.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2017-09/bundeskanzlerin-angela-merkel-araber-fluechtlingsdebatte-wahl ))

… but an uneasy relationship with the CDU

Whether this could eventually translate into a higher level of support for the CDU among Germany’s Muslims remains to be seen. Not only will it take a long time for the recently immigrated refugees to acquire German citizenship (provided that they choose to do so); refugees’ loyalty is also oriented more towards Mrs. Merkel than her party.

Over her twelve years in office as Chancellor (and 17 years as chairwoman of the CDU), Mrs. Merkel has steered her party sharply to the political centre on a number of social issues, including immigration. Whilst she is expected to win a fourth term at the Chancellery this Sunday, her tenure will not last forever, raising the spectre of a return to a more conservative profile under a potential successor.

Particularly since Mrs. Merkel’s decision to allow the arrival several hundred thousand refugees, she has faced pressures from the party base. At the CDU’s last party congress at which Mrs. Merkel announced her intention to run for another term as Chancellor, the party forced her against her will to shift to the right on immigration, burqa ban, and dual citizenship.

German Muslims’ stance on immigration

Socially conservative Muslim immigrants and their offspring have long been touted as a potential electoral reservoir for the CDU. Yet at the ballot box many German Muslims may continue to feel that the Christian Democrats (and CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, even more so), do not govern in their interests.

This does not mean, however, that German Muslims are automatically supportive of a permissive immigration policy. Among the country’s Muslim population, fears about immigration seem almost as widespread as among members of mainstream society.

To be sure, German Muslims have been active volunteers in charitable efforts to help refugees. Yet many established Muslim voters also view new immigrants as potential rivals on already tight labour and housing markets. Others fear that immigrants from war-torn Middle Eastern countries might bring social unrest or even jihadist violence to Germany.((For such opinions, see http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/umfrage-stimmen-zur-deutsch-tuerkischen-beziehung-a-1137631.html or http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-01/michel-abdollahi-angst-migranten-koeln ))

Stability and change in Muslims’ voting behaviour

In sum, even without the votes of refugees who could express their gratitude to Mrs. Merkel, electoral analysts expect a slight uptick of the Muslim vote benefiting the Chancellor’s Christian Democrats. A recent poll suggested that 12 per cent of German Turks now support the CDU, compared to 9 per cent in 2013.(( http://taz.de/Wahlverhalten-der-Deutschtuerken/!5449200/ ))

This comes against the backdrop of a dynamic in which the traditional bond of Germany’s Turkish Muslims with the Social Democrats appears to be weakening. The scale of Germany’s Turkish, immigrant, and Muslim communities distancing from the SPD remains to be seen, however.

Recently, a rapper, enormously popular also among young refugees for his rags-to-riches story – his family had come to Germany in the 1990s as asylum-seekers from Iraqi Kurdistan – posted a photograph of his ballot paper on a social networking site. He had ticked the SPD’s boxes.(( http://hiphop.de/node/307308#.WcUBh7JJbBU ))

Confusion and caution: German Muslims and politicians react to Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’

 

The widespread confusion that has reigned since Donald Trump signed the executive order temporarily barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries on January 27 has not left German Muslims untouched.

Not only were a number of Muslim travellers from these countries left stranded at German airports as they were unable to board their connecting flights to the US after the order had been signed.(( http://hessenschau.de/gesellschaft/nach-trumps-einreiseverbot-stranden-muslime-in-frankfurt,transit-100.html )) The ban also impacts Muslims residing in Germany who have retained the nationality of their ancestors, as well as dual nationals holding a passport from the countries targeted besides their German citizenship.

Impact on dual citizens

Especially the issue of dual citizens has received heightened media coverage, since it meant that around 130,000 German passport holders were initially barred from entering the United States.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/trumps-praesidentschaft/einreiseverbot-von-donald-trump-betrifft-deutsche-doppelstaatler-14797893.html ))

Among this group were a number of high-ranking public figures, including German-Iranian Green Party politician Omid Nouripour. Ironically enough, Nouripour is a fiercely atlanticist politician and the vice chairman of the German-American parliamentary cooperation committee.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/donald-trump-omid-nouripour-darf-nicht-mehr-in-die-usa-reisen-a-1131900.html ))

Other individuals affected include Hesse’s economy minister and German-Yemeni Tarek Al-Wazir, German-Iranian Navid Kermani – a public intellectual and long-considered candidate for the post of President of the Federal Republic – or Aiman Mazyek, German-Syrian chairman of the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD).

Unresolved situation of Muslim residents

As the Trump administration appeared to walk back on some of the elements of its ‘Muslim ban’, dual citizens were exempted from the entry restrictions: US authorities confirmed that holders of German passports would be eligible to travel to the United States, irrespective of their second citizenship.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/usa-unter-praesident-trump-deutsche-doppelstaatler-duerfen-wohl-doch-in-usa-einreisen-1.3358859 ))

No solution, however, appeared to be in sight for the Muslim residents of Germany, who – in spite of their often long-standing presence in the country – have not acquired German nationality. To them, the ban still applies to its fullest extent.

German Muslims’ opinion on Trump

Against this backdrop, it is all the more surprising that in a poll conducted between 27 and 30 January 2017 – and thus in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s executive decree – only 44.7 per cent of Muslim German respondents had a negative opinion of the Trump presidency. Among the overall German population, 68.4 per cent expressed such a negative view.(( http://cicero.de/berliner-republik/ciceroumfrage-klare-mehrheit-der-deutschen-gegen-trump ))

More than a third of German Muslims asserted that it was “a good thing that Donald Trump is President of the United States”. Beyond questions of statistical accuracy – with a sample size of 2,088, the share of Muslim respondents must have been small – political calculations detached from the ‘Muslim ban’ might also play a role in this assessment: many Muslim Middle Easterners were glad to see Trump triumph over Hillary Clinton, believing that the Republican would pursue a less interventionist policy vis-à-vis the region.(( https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/middle-east-donald-trump-president ))

Political reaction to the ‘Muslim ban’

The overall political reaction in Berlin to President Trump’s executive order has been more muted than might have been expected. Chancellor Merkel had her spokesman state that she “regretted” the ‘Muslim ban’ for its divisive implications. Yet when prodded by journalists the spokesman explicitly refrained from formally “condemning” the incoming administration’s move. Instead, the spokesman emphasised the need to analyse the situation and its implications. (( http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/DE/_ElementeStart/Sprecher_node.html ))

Merkel subsequently went on to take a more openly critical stance in front of the press, asserting that the fight against terrorism did not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain belief. She was nevertheless careful to guard her words, stopping short of openly antagonising the Trump administration.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/angela-merkel-donald-trump-muslim-ban_uk_588f8483e4b0ce6c8c2cc69b ))

While the opposition was quick to castigate the ban, another leading conservative politician, Bavarian Minister President Horst Seehofer, strove to hit a more conciliatory line towards the Trump administration.

Breaking ranks?

Seehofer, a long-standing inner-party critic of Merkel’s immigration policy, lauded the new American President for “quickly and determinedly implementing his campaign pledges step by step.” While he asserted that he did not agree with all of Trump’s policies, he invited the President to visit Bavaria and demanded that Trump’s status as the freely elected representative of the United States be respected.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/horst-seehofer-lobt-donald-trump-a-1132190.html ))

Seehofer has a long history of challenging Merkel on foreign and immigration matters through well-calculated contacts with foreign decision-makers. In October 2016, he welcomed Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán in Munich with great fanfare; a move that was widely seen as a bid to undermine Merkel’s immigration policy.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/europaeische-union/viktor-orban-besucht-horst-seehofer-im-bayerischen-landtag-14485223.html )) In 2016, he also flew to Moscow twice for talks with Vladimir Putin in what appeared to be open defiance against Merkel’s position on the Ukraine crisis and her support for sanctions against Russia.(( http://www.br.de/nachrichten/seehofer-russland-putin-100.html ))

This highlights that while in the days after the promulgation of the ‘Muslim ban’ the Anglo-Saxon media rushed to celebrate the Merkel government as the bulwark against Trumpism,(( http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/angela-merkel-donald-trump-democracy-freedom-of-press-a7556986.html )) the actual position of the Chancellor and her administration is much more complex. Rather than assume the mantle of the ‘Chancellor of the Free World’ in a determined – yet, from her point of view, ultimately suicidal – stance against Trump, Merkel may well opt for a more cautious course of action.

Report: Mainstreaming Immigrant Integration Policy in France

A recent comparative research project organized by the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) and the University of Oxford and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, details the complicated history and current situation of immigrant integration in France. Currently, the government’s immigration initiatives cease after an immigrant has been in France for five years. French law does not allow for statistics to be gathered concerning a person’s ethnicity or religion, and because many children of immigrants are French citizens, it is difficult to assess the efficacy of the current government initiatives.

President Francois Hollande is considering reforms to the country’s integration policies. This comprehensive report discusses immigration trends, and the youth as a key population in integration policies, as well as educational, employment and social cohesion policies.