Berlin - Intercultural by Law

 

The federal state of Berlin is the first to legislatively incorporate the concept interculturalism. On 09.12.2010 the Berlin House of Representatives passed the Law on regulation of participation and integration in Berlin (Gesetz zur Regelung von Partizipation und Integration in Berlin). Based on the principal of intercultural opening, the law aims at fostering participation of people with a migration background* and, thus, enhancing peaceful co-habitation of all inhabitants of Berlin. Specifically, the law focuses on breaking down social barriers that lead to the structural discrimination.

 

In order to achieve this, the law calls for the establishment of a permanent representative body of immigrant groups on state and regional level to be actively consulted in policy-making processes. The Law amends various other pieces of legislation. This has resulted not only in linguistic changes, such as the substitution of the word churchly by religious. Moreover, it applies particularly to the representation of people with an immigrant background in statutory bodies and takes into account the religious diversity resulting from immigration. For example in relation to higher education, the law focuses on the creation of PR strategies at universities aimed at increasing the percentage of students from under-represented groups of society. With respect to job opportunities, intercultural competence becomes a lawful employment criterion for civil service positions. And as to participation of the elderly, the law demands the establishment and consultation of representative bodies that lobby for concerns of people with a migration background. Thus, the law applies the policy principle of intercultural opening at all stages of life, and even beyond; with the amendment of funeral law, it introduces the legal recognition of Muslim sepulture rites, allowing, for example, burial without coffin.

 

Commensurately, the law on regulation of participation and integration in Berlin, is an important step to fill the missing link between social reality and legal situation. People with a migration background still face massive access barriers that lead to structural discrimination at nearly all levels of public life, such as education, apprenticeship and job opportunities, the housing market and also cultural expression and participation. Accordingly, the law tackles a situation where equal opportunity in relevant social areas is still not facilitated for a group in society that plays not only a qualitatively but also quantitatively important role for Berlin. The citys population consists of 25% of people with a migration background in the age-range of 18 years and below this percentage reaches over 40%. Accordingly, the law is the necessary reaction to the demographic reality of Berlin.

 

However, the legislative proposal was perceived to be highly controversial and met a great deal of resentments and skepticism, which might be reasoned in its novelty and high political topicality. In order to enhance public, democratic discourse about the law and inform society about its necessity and positive consequences, a variety of local activities were carried out throughout the legislative process, such as neighbourhood events, public debates and conferences. Furthermore, representatives of civil society have been actively included in the law making process to give further critical advice. To ensure intercultural representation of the law and its content, the counsel of representatives of people with migration background was given special attention.

 

The Law on regulation of participation and integration in Berlin, thus, creates the legal premise to enhance equal access opportunities to public services and public participation in central parts of society, and demolishes existing barriers. It is, however, not a law that introduces positive discrimination via quotas at any level. Rather, as described in the preamble of the law, it lawfully recognizes diversity of cultural and linguistic expression, religion and tradition as an "immeasurable treasure" for society. In this sense, Berlin lawfully recognizes the pluralistic competences that derive from the immigration experience as an asset and places its policy principle of intercultural opening on the legal level.

Annasophia Heintze

 


*Definition:

People with a migration background (Menschen mit Migrationshintergrund)

1. Non-Germans in the sense of article 116, paragraph 1 of the German Constitution;

2. Foreign-born and people that immigrated to Germany since 1 January 1956;

3. Persons of whom at least one parent met the criteria of point 2.