Germany: Immigration is a Top Priority, Leitkultur Back in Political Discourse

German Reichstag (parliament) building Source:

A study released on Wednesday shows a significant increase in the proportion of Europeans believing that lowering immigration should be the government’s top priority. The top of the list is Germany. Meanwhile, the Alliance of Democracies Foundation, a think tank based in Denmark, commissioned a survey that found that the same countries felt less inclined to make combating climate change a top priority.

More Europeans than ever before believe that “reducing immigration” should be a top priority for their government as of 2022—from slightly less than 20% to 25%.

“In 2024, for the first time, reducing immigration is a greater priority for most Europeans than fighting climate change,” the report said. “Nowhere is this reversal more striking than in Germany, which now leads the world with the highest share of people who want their government to focus on reducing immigration — topping all other priorities — and now nearly twice as high as fighting climate change,” the report read.

In 2022, about 25% of Germans said that immigration was their top priority; in the 2024 survey, that number increased to 44%. Two years ago, a third of respondents expressed the greatest concern about climate change, a percentage that was below 25% this time.

Integration itself is under scrutiny by the centre-right as well, with newly re-appointed chief of the Christian Democratic Union, Friedrich Merz. Merz, a strong politician, more on the conservative side of the party said in December 2023 that Christmas trees were part of German Leitkultur, or leading/guiding culture.

The term Leitkultur, which has its roots in German agriculture, was first used politically by University of Göttingen expert on Islam Bassam Tibi. He advocated for the establishment of a European Leitkultur in 1998 in order to uphold principles like tolerance, human rights, and the separation of church and state.

When CDU politician Merz used the term “Leitkultur” for the first time in an interview with the newspaper Welt in 2000, it ignited the first widespread discussion about the topic in Germany. Merz demanded regulations compelling citizens to adhere to the “liberal German leading culture” and stricter limits on immigration.

In an effort to reinterpret Leitkultur, German Parliamentary President Norbert Lammert called for a discussion in 2005 regarding a “guiding European idea” that is based on “common cultural roots, common history, and common traditions.”

Therefore, it is frequently unclear whether this loaded term refers to required learning or action, and it permeates German migration debates. It is now part of the new basic policy program of the CDU.

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