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Party Competition and Inclusion of Immigrants in Germany

GPS, Vol. 1 No. 3, (2001)


In the history of traditional immigration countries, i.e., countries with an open policy and tradition of immigration, migration has exercised a great influence on party systems and election results. In Europe, the current situation in Austria illustrates very clearly how migration can affect the electoral success of political parties. Apart from cases highlighting the isolated success of radical right-wing, xenophobic parties at the regional level, immigration in Germany has not had any marked influence on the party system up to today. An essential reason for this fact is that a large number of the immigrants do not have or have not yet gained German citizenship and, as a result, are not entitled to vote. But if we anticipate the future development of sustained immigration and naturalization in Germany, the number of migrants entitled to vote will likely grow in the near future. What implications will immigration have upon have upon the German party system? And, what implications will the German party system have upon immigration policy and the integration of a large migrant population? This article is intended to make a first attempt to approach this complex subject by using the classic theories by Lipset/ Rokkan and Downs which explain parties and the shape of party systems.

In this article I note that the role of parties in solving the question of the integration of immigrants in German society has been underestimated. Following the theory of Lipset/ Rokkan it can be concluded that until now the importance of parties in their serving as bridges between various social groups is not recognized sufficiently in contemporary German migration research. The special role of parties surrounding the debate on immigration and the integration of immigrants is also emphasized by the Rational-Choice-Theory introduced into the party system research by Downs. According to Downs' rational-choice prerogative , integration is not primarily socially and culturally determined, it is rather a question of will, or the benefit of parties. From this it seems to be clear that migration policy is dependent on interests, which can mean, on the one hand, that parties build bridges, but which also means that social cleavages can be created by parties.

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