Berlin Protests Highlight Need for Sound Employment Discrimination Laws in Germany

This past weekend, tens of thousands of protestors gathered in Berlin to take part in a demonstration to support an “open and free” German society. Organizers planned the #unteilbar demonstration (#indivisible in English) in response to the rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD), which is now the largest opposition party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing coalition. The demonstration also follows far-right protests that took place in the eastern city of Chemnitz in August.

The #unteilbar demonstrations highlight a German society that has gone through changes since Merkel’s “open door” policy drew 1.2 million migrants and refugees to Germany in 2015. The anxieties around the integration of these refugees have cost Merkel at home politically, with the AfD effectively pushing the narrative that Germany is losing its national identity to migration. The #unteilbar demonstration organizers have warned that “racism and discrimination are becoming socially acceptable.”

The anxieties around the integration of these refugees have cost Merkel at home politically, with the AfD effectively pushing the narrative that Germany is losing its national identity to migration.

Overcoming the integration challenges associated with the 2015 migration crisis could also present Merkel with the opportunity to improve her reputation at home. Broadly speaking, access to employment for refugees and migrants is an important factor for successful integration. Merkel, therefore, could seek to develop policies and laws that focus on the socio-economic integration of refugees by addressing societal issues, like employment discrimination, head-on. The #unteilbar organizers also raised this possibility.

To ensure continued economic integration of newly arrived refugees, the German government adopted the Integration Act in August 2016, which provides for integration classes, vocational training, employment, and training opportunities. The law, however, does not address hurdles that refugees may encounter once they are integrated.

Educational achievement has not guaranteed a smooth transfer to gainful employment for immigrants in Germany. Studies indicate that ethnic minorities, including Turks, experience discrimination in the German labor market. Having a foreign name can also reduce the chance of getting a job interview. This happened to my own father, an international student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the late 1980s when he completed his PhD in Germany.

Germany enacted the General Equal Treatment Act in 2006 to address employment discrimination based on categories like race and ethnic origin. The law, however, has gaps. The Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency, the body tasked with the implementation of the act, does not have the power to carry out its own investigations in discrimination proceedings, for example.

Germany could look to the United States as an example of a fellow Western nation that has over fifty years of experience in successfully integrating non-European immigrants.

Everyday discrimination against ethnic minorities is still commonplace in Germany, and the Merkel government might address this through legal and policy tools that adequately address the barrier that employment discrimination could present to the successful integration of refugees. Germany could look to the United States as an example of a fellow Western nation that has over fifty years of experience in successfully integrating non-European immigrants.

There is no denying that migration has become a source of anxiety among many citizens across the Atlantic, including Germany. Germany, like the United States, also has a legal tradition and a strong constitution that promotes equality for all those living within its borders. That same tradition could end up being a factor as German policymakers consider whether it is advantageous for the nation as a whole that the newest members of its society should have the necessary legal protections to succeed socially and economically. In fact, proponents might even argue that such steps could ensure that Germany, in the face of changing demographics, actually is #unteilbar.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Laura Kupe

RAND Corporation

Laura Kupe is a Policy Analyst at the RAND Corporation. She currently serves as a Transatlantic Expert Group Leader for the Truman National Security Project and a Youth Ambassador for Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation. Ms. Kupe previously served as a Special Assistant at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Office of International Engagement within the Office of Policy as a presidential appointee in the Obama administration. In her role, she served as a subject-matter expert on the Department’s engagement with European Union (EU) member states and the Five Eyes on topics including immigration/migration, border security, and counterterrorism. Previously, she was detailed to the Office of Presidential Personnel in the White House and served as Domestic Director. Before her detail, she served as the Briefing Book Coordinator to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. Prior to her time in the federal government, Ms. Kupe served as a legislative fellow for Congresswoman Karen Bass, Ranking Member of the Africa Subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Her parents are originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and she was born in Germany and raised in Luxembourg before moving to the United States. Ms. Kupe speaks fluent German and is a self-proclaimed “Afropean-American.” She graduated with a BA from the University of Michigan and a JD from the University of Michigan Law School.

She is a 2018-2019 participant in AICGS’ project “A German-American Dialogue of the Next Generation: Global Responsibility, Joint Engagement,” sponsored by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi).