The Integration Contract is something that comes up again and again as a beacon in discussions about Germany’s immigration policy.
Just 10 years ago, it was seen as a panacea to prevent ghettoization and the creation of parallel societies.
The previous administration’s coalition agreement stated: “Integration contracts will state the measures needed to achieve successful integration into German society and the German labor market.”
What happened to that idea?
Little to nothing at all. Integration contracts were supposed to help integrate people more closely and yet all they did was create unnecessary disagreements. After only a few test runs, the project was quietly and secretly buried.
The integration contract is based on the idea of reciprocity, and the principle of fostering and demanding something in return.
Now, though, it’s back.
Both ruling parties, the center-right Christian Democratic Union and the center-left Social Democratic Party, are calling for binding integration contracts with the refugees.
Back too are the same old fears that always accompanied mention of the integration contract in the media, with the strongest accusation being that it is illiberal.
Let’s start with the good news: No, there’s nothing fundamentally illiberal about the idea of this sort of agreement between immigrants and the country receiving them. On the contrary, the idea bears an unmistakably liberal stamp and draws on contemporary liberal beliefs.
It’s easy to explain what makes this form of contract so attractive. In principle, the integration contract is less about obligation than about freedom. Contracts are obligations we choose to enter into. They only oblige individuals who consent to them voluntarily.
The integration contract is based on the idea of reciprocity and the principle of fostering and demanding something in return. This principle has long been the leitmotif of German integration policy.
But in addition to reciprocity, the concept is also about recognition. People who have worked and lived their way into a society are not forced to approach the state as supplicants, but can demand the right to participate.
The fact that immigrants have barely any influence on what’s in the contract isn’t really important. A bigger principle is involved from the start, namely that claims and expectations can only be fulfilled if they are clearly defined and regulated.
Immigrants must be shown a path that enables them to reach the center of society. An integration contract can achieve this.
Of course, France’s counterpart, the Reception and Integration Contract has been a fixed component of the immigration process since 2007, though the country still isn’t a model when it comes to immigration policy.
But the comparison with France doesn’t help much as the French integration contract emphasizes sanctions instead of incentives.
Anyone who fails to abide by the contract can expect sanctions – and ultimately deportation – and that’s the problem. Who can seriously claim that immigrants have decided to sign the agreement voluntarily if deportation is the potential alternative? Many immigrants would sign anything that protects them from being deported.
Still, integration isn’t achieved with a blank check. The integration contract is intended to send a positive signal to immigrants, namely that those who satisfy its requirements have the right to stay – and by the shortest route possible: a fast lane to integration!
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