There’s nothing better for livening up all this dull, wonkish chatter about the German elections than a bit of CDU-bashing. So, how shall I bash them today? Oh, I know! How about this: they’re a shower of xenophobe racists.
Yes, yes; not exactly news, is it? What is news, though, is that the Union appears to value xenophobia even more than it does winning elections.
The backstory is this. There are, as you know, lots of Turks in Germany. They first came as Gastarbeiter, the idea being that they’d spend some years here doing the jobs the Germans wouldn’t take, then head off back to their distant homeland. What happened, of course, is that lots of Turks put down roots here; they never left. In some cases they are now in their third generation in Germany.
Third generation or no, until fairly recently they wouldn’t have been Germans. Even if born and raised in Stuttgart and speaking nothing but German (if one can call what Stuttgarters speak ‘German’), they’d remain Turks — foreigners in the eyes of the law. And what’s more, no matter how many generations they’d been here, they had no legal claim to become German citizens.
After many years’ legal residence, a non-German could apply for naturalisation. But this was a so-called Kann-Vorschrift. That is, the Internal Ministry was permitted, but not required or even expected, to approve the application. Naturalisation was at the ministry’s sole discretion. (If the foreigner had married a German, the waiting time was reduced, and here the law was a Soll-Vorschrift: the applicant still had no legal claim, but absent a good reason to reject the application the ministry was expected to approve it.)
Then, a few years ago, the SPD/Green government modified this embarrassingly racialist citizenship law. The waiting period has been reduced all round, applicants have a right to naturalisation if they fulfil the legal requirements, and those born here to non-German parents are, as long as their parents had lived here legally for a specified period, automatically German. It’s still not the pure jus solis regime that most civilised countries have long since adopted, but it’s a good deal better than it used to be. The Union went apeshit, of course.
Anyway, what we now have is a lot of Germans who were born as Turks, either in Turkey itself or in Germany to Turkish parents. And a fair few of these new Germans — about 700,000 of them — are entitled to vote this Sunday. They would never have become Germans at all, if the Union had been able to do anything about it. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it, that German voters of Turkish descent are going to mark their ballot papers overwhelmingly in favour of the SPD?
It is. The Spiegel reports on a poll by Hürriyet that shows the following breakdown among Turkish-descended voters:
Left Party 7.8%
But there’s more to it than that. The Turks in Germany are on the whole a pretty conservative lot, especially on ‘family values’ issues. For many of them, the CDU should be a natural home, as a Turkish-descended Green politician admits in this article on the Union’s curious inability to attract the Turkish vote.
‘Well, except for the “C” part,’ you might be saying. But there you’d be wrong. Yes, committed conservative Christians gravitate to the Union. But then, there aren’t very many such people in Germany. (And some committed Christians bitterly complain that, with its ‘C’, the Union is flying a false flag.) Most Germans, including many CDU supporters, are merely nominal Christians. The party itself has stated that Germany’s few non-Christians should not view the ‘C’ as a barrier; Michel Friedmann, who was prominent in the CDU before he got on Helmut Kohl’s bad side, is a Jew. (He’s also a bit of a pompous moralist who later, like fellow pompous moralist William Bennett, came a cropper in a highly entertaining incident. Indeed, Friedmann’s incident was even more entertaining than Bennett’s. But that is a story for another day.) So you’d think the Union would be at pains to attract the votes of Turkish-descended Germans.
That’s what some of the handful of Turkish-descended CDU supporters thought, anyway. They wanted to mount an aggressive campaign for Turkish votes. But the party disagreed. What on earth is the party thinking, you may ask, given the natural conservatism of many Turks and the potentially decisive number of votes at play in a very close election? Well, the answer is really quite simple. Party leaders might be glad enough of votes from Turkish Germans, but they know that CDU voters in general don’t want Turks around the place. As CDU General Secretary Volker Kauder admitted, making overtures to Turkish-descended Germans ‘would get me into trouble with my base.’ The Union won’t refuse the votes of Turks, but it’s not going to do much to attract them either. The ‘real’ Germans at the core of the party’s support wouldn’t like that. And anyway, if the Union had had anything to say about it, those people wouldn’t be Germans to begin with.
And it’s doing its best to de-Germanise them where it can. Another Spiegel report tells of efforts to chase down Turks who were naturalised as Germans and then re-acquired their old Turkish citizenship as well. Even today, German law frowns on dual nationality. To become Germans, these Turks had to renounce their Turkish citizenship, which they duly did. Renouncing Turkish citizenship has its disadvantages, though. (For example, you forfeit any real property in Turkey that you would otherwise have inherited.) So a number of these new German citizens then applied for a new Turkish passport. (Turkey is pretty accommodating about that sort of thing.) Under German law, these Germanised Turks lose their German citizenship if they later acquire another nationality (including their old Turkish one). Until very recently, though, everybody pretty much turned a blind eye to this.
Not any longer. The CDU, taking a page from their Republican soulmates in America, have raised hue and cry that the election will be stolen by illegal voters. The internal ministers of the Länder (most of them from the Union) have been cracking down hard. They’ve been trying to identify German/Turkish dual nationals, in part by asking them to step forward ‘so the state can help them regularise their situation.’ But those who take the state governments at their word have found that regaining German citizenship may well be impossible. (In fairness, I should note that some of the few non-Union state internal ministers are also trying to round up dual nationals, though apparently with an eye to saving money more than anything else.)
With relatively little effort, the Union could attract a lot of votes from Germans of Turkish extraction. Apparently, though, this number would be outweighed by the number of current Union voters who’d be angered to see their party treating these 700,000 like the German citizens they are. Yes, pretty much everything the Union does that relates even tangentially to Turks — be it their a priori rejection of even eventual Turkish EU accession or their agitation to prohibit the headscarf — is guaranteed to alienate Turkish-descended Germans. But the leaders of the Union are not idiots; they can do their electoral sums. And they have concluded, no doubt correctly, that abandoning cheap xenophobic populism might gain them some votes from Turkish-descended Germans, but would lose them far more votes from typical supporters of the Union.
Fair enough. Few politicians put principle before power. And, in most circumstances, 700,000 votes won’t be decisive. Even without those votes, Angela Merkel is probably going to be chancellor, either as head of the Union/FDP government she’s hoping for or as part of a grand coalition. But it’s still possible she’ll fail. If she does, and if the votes of those Turkish-descended Germans could have made the difference, will the CDU regret that it didn’t do more to win them?
If I know the CDU, probably not. If they react at all, it will be to undo the current coalition’s half-hearted reform of citizenship laws to ensure that those awful dusky people can’t call themselves German in the first place.