BLOG

In a startling confirmation of the rising power of Germany's populist movement, on Friday Germany's new Interior Minister Horst Seehofer declared that "Islam does not belong to Germany" while setting out hardline immigration policies in an interview published on Friday, in an attempt to ward off rising anti-immigration challengers.

“Islam does not belong to Germany,” Seehofer said, contradicting former German president Christian Wulff who fueled a debate over immigration in 2010 by saying Islam was part of Germany. In 2015 Merkel echoed Wulff’s words at a time when anti-immigration campaign group PEGIDA - or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West - was holding marches.

Horst Seehofer

Closing the book on Merkel's disastrous "open door" policies, Seehofer told Bild he would push through a "master plan for quicker deportations”, in his first major interview since he was sworn into office on Wednesday.

The minister - a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies who are further to the right than her own Christian Democrats - said he would also classify more states as "safe" countries of origin, which would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers. The statements - an obvious attempt to court populist voters - come after Merkel’s conservatives, and their coalition allies - the Social Democrats - lost ground to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in elections last year.

As Reuters notes, Seehofer is particularly keen to show his party is tackling immigration ahead of Bavaria’s October regional election, when the AfD is expected to enter that state assembly.

“Of course the Muslims living here do belong to Germany,” Seehofer said before going on to say Germany should not give up its own traditions or customs, which had Christianity at their heart.

“My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us,” he said.

According to the German government, between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims live in Germany today; most have a Turkish background and many of the more than a million migrants who have arrived in the country from the Middle East and elsewhere after Merkel adopted an open-door policy in mid-2015 are also Muslims.

* * *

In an amusing response from Andre Poggenburg, head of the AfD in the eastern state of Saxony, he said that Seehofer was copying his party with a view to Bavaria’s October regional election: “Horst Seehofer has taken this message from our manifesto word for word,” he said.

In other words the CDU is now the AfD. Who would have thunk it?

Meanwhile, the far-left Linke and Greens condemned Seehofer’s message, and the Social Democrats’ Natascha Kohnen told broadcaster n-tv: “Saying that incites people against each other at a time when we really don’t need that. What we really need is politicians who bring people together.”

In a coalition agreement, Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative bloc and the Social Democrats agreed they would manage and limit migration to Germany and Europe to avoid a re-run of the 2015 refugee crisis. They also said they did not expect migration (excluding labor migration) to rise above the range of 180,000 to 220,000 per year.