The new Bundestag mirrors society: People of color, LGBTQ+ activists, people with different professional backgrounds. That more parliamentarians have their roots in migrant communities represents a huge opportunity.
When Armand Zorn first set foot in the plenary chamber of the German parliament, he felt a profound sense of humility. "I'm well aware of the special responsibility that I now have," he told DW. Born in Cameroon, Zorn came to Germany when he was 12 years old. Now he is an elected member of the Bundestag for his party, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).
Last Sunday's election has made the parliament in which he will now serve much more representative of German society as a whole. "Yesterday, we had our first parliamentary group meeting," Zorn said. "And it was plain to see that it was a very diverse gathering. Diverse in terms of people's backgrounds and roots. But also in terms of gender, biography, and profession."
A survey carried out by Mediendienst Integration (Migration Media Service) shows that at least 83 of the newly elected members of the Bundestag have a migrant background.
Currently, about 26%of the German population have a migration history in their families. This means that either they themselves or at least one parent were not born with German citizenship.
"We're seeing a positive trend when it comes to diversity as it is manifested in the Bundestag," Deniz Nergiz, the executive director of the Federal Immigration and Integration Council, told DW. "And what's even more positive is that within that group there's a further shift towards more diversity. There are for instance more Afro-German politicians. And more MPs with Turkish roots."
Parties on the left are more diverse
The figures show that at least 11.3% of MPs are from migrant communities — that's an increase of three percentage points from the parliament elected in 2017.
According to the Migration Media Service survey, it is the socialist Left Party that has the highest proportion of parliamentarians with migrant backgrounds: 28.2%. At the bottom end of the table is the conservative Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union alliance, with just 4.6%. The neoliberal Free Democrats had the second lowest, at 5.4%, and 7.2% of lawmakers for the Alternative for Germany, a party that often advocates for policies hostile to immigration, had migrant backgrounds.
The SPD is in the second spot on the list, with 17% of parliamentarians with a migration background. Zorn said the positive trend did not surprise him: "I believe that it's part of a trend. All the parties have to open up. We aren't yet where we need to be. But I think the parties now understand that."
It is an assessment that is shared by Deniz Nergiz, who wrote her doctoral thesis, I Long for Normality: A Study on German Parliamentarians with Migration Backgrounds, in 2013: "The political parties have created more space for people who have a migrant biography. And they've done so not just by supporting them as candidates for individual constituencies but also by putting them high up on the lists of party candidates, which significantly boosts their chances of getting a seat in parliament."
No focus on skin color
Zorn has just experienced a long and tough election campaign. He spoke about the many hours he spent in his constituency, going from door to door. But, he said, it was well worth the effort. In his home city of Frankfurt, he managed to win one of the two direct seats up for contention, the other going to Omid Nouripour of the Green Party.
"It bodes well for Frankfurt and for Germany. Omid Nouripour came here from Iran as a 13-year-old. I came to Germany from Cameroon when I was 12," Zorn said: "And it makes us really proud that we've both managed to win a direct seat." What's more, it makes him, "confident for the future because it demonstrates that our society is a diverse society, where the question isn't where are you from, but where are you going?"
Zorn spoke about all the positive experiences that he has had in recent weeks: "What I really enjoyed during the election campaign was that the focus wasn't always on the color of my skin. It wasn't all about me being dark-skinned. About being Black. Instead, it was about my personality. It was about my expertise in the fields of digitization, business, and finance. What people to know was: what could I get done?"
The priority, Nergiz said, is to stop seeing politicians with a migration background as victims but instead as "absolutely normal politicians with special competence in a whole variety of fields."
And, indeed, it has been precisely these parliamentarians who have made such a significant contribution to ensuring that migration-related topics have been treated with more sensitivity and more understanding in the Bundestag. When it comes to talking about conditions in an asylum hostel, for instance, politicians are "probably going to respond very differently to a fellow parliamentarian who actually grew up in that kind of environment," Nergiz said.
At 33, Zorn is among the younger members of parliament. Nergiz said that was typical for the newly elected lawmakers: "If you study the party lists, you find that there are a lot of young men and women from migrant communities who can already look back on impressive careers."
One example is 34-year-old Sanae Abdi from Cologne. She has been an active member of the SPD for 12 years and is the chairperson of the local division of her party. "The new generation has a lot of advantages compared with the first or second generation of migrants," Nergiz said. "Most of them have grown up in the German educational system. So, they know how to establish new networks, including cross-party networks, that help them in their careers."
Zorn has the backing of a group called Brand New Bundestag. It is an initiative made up of civil society activists, who came together to support 11 first-time candidates in the election campaign — both financially and logistically. And three of them did indeed make it into parliament.
There are still hurdles
Despite the positive developments, Nergiz has no doubt that many hurdles lie ahead. She points to the case of Tareq Alaows, who stood down as a candidate for the Greens after being subjected to massive racist abuse.
"It's the kind of thing that many people from migrant communities experience," Nergiz said. "Their fears are justified. And it's understandable when they withdraw as candidates. Unfortunately, the political parties haven't so far come up with a way of making sure that racism doesn't prevent people from getting involved in politics."
Nergiz said it remained to be seen whether the positive trend will be sustained in the new Bundestag and whether issues such as participation, inclusion and representation would have a concrete impact. Whether or not that might happen could begin to become clear as soon as coalition negotiations get underway and above all when it comes to the question of who gets what job in the new assembly.
One key point might be the question of who becomes the next speaker of parliament. One person widely viewed as a serious contender for this highly influential post is Aydan Özoguz, of the Social Democrats, the German government's former minister of state for migration, refugees and integration.
This article was translated from German.
Author: Lisa Hänel
First published: September 30, 2021
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