The Turkish Minority in German Politics: Trends, Diversification of Representation, and Policy Implications

By Akturk, Sener | Insight Turkey, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Turkish Minority in German Politics: Trends, Diversification of Representation, and Policy Implications


Akturk, Sener, Insight Turkey


To what extent does the "Turkish vote" matter in German elections? Can one speak of a unified Turkish vote? Is the Turkish minority adequately represented in proportion to its share in the population? What are the mistakes Turkey made in its policy towards Germany's Turkish minority? What are the implications of the 2009 elections for German-Turkish relations and Turkey's pursuit of EU membership? What are the future political prospects of Germany's Turkish minority?

The historic victory of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1998, and the reign of the SPD-Green coalition government under the leadership of Gerhard Schroder between 1998 and 2005, represented the political constellation most favorable to the interests of the Turkish minority in Germany. This was when the historic citizenship reform of 1999 was passed, allowing for an ever increasing number of second and third generation Turkish immigrants to acquire German citizenship. However, the government's failure to allow for dual citizenship was a major disappointment among the Turkish minority. Ever since 2005, Turks lost political clout with every successive election and government. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) victory in 2005, which culminated in the CDU/CSU-SPD coalition government, was a mixed blessing for the Turkish minority in the sense that while the CDU leadership in the government was negatively disposed towards both the Turkish minority in Germany and Turkey's membership in the EU, the SPD half of the "Grand Coalition" limited the excesses of the Christian Democrats. Following the September 2009 elections and the formation of the CDU/CSU and the liberal FDP coalition government, the Turkish minority in Germany, as well as Turkey in its pursuit of EU membership, can expect more political obstacles and troubles. The FDP, although liberal, is both not nearly as powerful as the SPD to balance the right wing policies of the CDU/CSU and it is not nearly as supportive of migrant interests and is as opposed to a culturalist stance in foreign policy as the SPD has historically been. The FDP has also had a much more tenuous relationship with the Turkish minority than the SPD, the Greens, or the Left party.

Turks in the Bundestag: Stable, Underrepresented, Female, Leftist but Diversifying

There are certain well-established trends as well as new developments in the representation of the Turkish minority in the German parliament, the Bundestag. In comparing the 17th (new) Bundestag elected in September 2009 with the 16th Bundestag elected in 2005, one sees that the number of members of Turkish background (1) is the same: five of the 614 members of the 16th Bundestag (2005-2009), and again five of the 622 members of the 17th Bundestag (2009-2013) are Turkish. This number corresponds to 0.8% of the Bundestag. Considering that the Turkish resident population of Germany is estimated at around 3 to 3.5 million, corresponding to about 3.6% to 4.3% of Germany's population of 82 million, the number of Turkish parliamentarians is indeed low. At this ratio, between 20 and 27 members of the Bundestag should have been of Turkish descent. However, considering that at most 800,000 (but perhaps as low as 600,000) of the Turks in Germany have citizenship, one can compute that only 1% of the citizenry is Turkish, even if up to 4% of the resident population can be considered of Turkish descent. Based on this adjustment based on "citizenship", one has to conclude that the proportion of Turks in the parliament corresponds to (or is only slightly lower than) their proportion within the citizenry.

Table 1 demonstrates some important trends. Turks' engagement with German politics began in the 1970s in an indirect fashion through the SPD-affiliated labor unions, most importantly, the DGB, the Federation of German Labor Unions. (2) Until the 1990s, the number of Turks with German citizenship was negligible. This number stood at 8,166 in 1986, corresponding to 0.

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The Turkish Minority in German Politics: Trends, Diversification of Representation, and Policy Implications
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