Chancellor Angela Merkel has exacerbated an already fraught debate by saying German multiculturalism has failed and German workers cannot live “happily side by side” with foreign workers. Yet she said in the same speech to the youth wing of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party that Islam is now part of Germany and that immigrants are welcome there. Ms Merkel’s intriguing comments are in keeping with remarks by Horst Seehofer, the Christian Social Union (CSU) premier of Bavaria, that immigrants from Turkey and Arabic countries have more difficulty integrating than other settlers and that Germany must end immigration from other cultures. These statements follow a book by the ex-central banker Thilo Sarrazin, which, among other things, accuses Turkish and Arabic communities in Germany of widespread criminality and of dumbing down the German education system. The arguments have grown so heated that German president Christian Wulff and Turkish president Abdullah Gül have intervened, the former saying that Turkish immigrants belong to Germany and the latter that they must attempt to integrate.

Centre-right German politicians may be responding to a sense of disquiet about immigration among sections of the public but it is clear they are pushing a bigoted agenda with racist overtones, which itself is undermined by key facts. First, there is no significant current immigration by Muslims, no thank you, into Germany. In 2009, 721,000 foreigners migrated and 734,000 people moved out; 20,000 Turks arrived and a similar number left, in a pattern that has held for some years. Secondly, after Turkey, the greatest number of immigrants came from Poland, Romania, the United States, and Bulgaria. Thirdly, unemployment is proportionately higher among central and eastern European immigrants, including ethnic Germans — although Turkish-Germans struggle to get jobs because Germany does not accept many Turkish qualifications. Furthermore, even conservative analysts call for more immigration, particularly of skilled workers. Yet the fact that polls reveal that 20 per cent of Germans are willing to support parties even further to the Right provides further confirmation of a shamelessly populist CDU and CSU strategy. No culture is a sealed bubble; as the political theorist Bhikhu Parekh observes, cultures engage in continuing conversations within themselves and with others. With her divisive and undermining comments, Chancellor Merkel has worsened a climate of insecurity for Germany’s ethnic minorities and diminished its international standing.