Immigration hardliner Fekter ‘confirmed’ by Sarrazin row

People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Maria Fekter said she “feels confirmed” by the public debate about Thilo Sarrazin’s new book.The former Deutsche Bundesbank executive board member’s bestseller “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany Abolishes Itself) caused outcry with its theories about a possible connection between immigrant’s intelligence, crime rates and their will to integrate.Fekter has been considered as a hardliner about immigration issues. She has spoken out against the setting up of a state secretary dealing with integration issues which are currently handled by her ministry.She angered left-wing political rivals and refugee NGOs recently by making clear she did not want “unskilled, illiterate farmers from some mountain villages” to settle in Austria.Figures have shown that 21.7 per cent of the 15,785 people who applied for asylum in Austria last year were allowed to stay. This share gives Austria a midfield position in the European Union (EU). The Netherlands rated the highest percentage of applications positively with 48.3 per cent, while Greece (1.1 per cent) came last in 2009.Fekter told the Kurier newspaper today (Mon): “I feel confirmed in my work so far by this debate (about Sarrazin’s claims). I think a clear language can be helpful in these regards.She added: “This discussion proves that a small political group seems to be allowed to say what’s right and what’s wrong. (…) You can’t agree with everything, and you must be allowed to raise certain things.”The interior minister said integration was “mostly functioning well” in Austria. But she added there were problems “with the language, professional qualifications and acceptance of our values”.The right-winger said: “There are people in Austria who came here a long time ago but who still don’t speak German. This causes big integration problems. Some women can’t go to the doctor, speak with the teachers about their children and can’t call for help in case of an emergency.”Speaking about problems of Austria’s current integration policy, the minister explained: “We treat (immigrating) university professors in the same way we treat illiterate people. This is not clever in an economic regard.”The coalition government of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the ÖVP is set to introduce a stricter immigration law later this year. The ruling will force people coming to Austria to live here to speak a basic level of German. The government plans to deport immigrants whose German does not improve in the first few years of living in the country.A recent GfK poll showed 74 per cent of Austrians agreed with the introduction of the mandatory basic German law.Fekter said she considered it as a “reasonable task” to learn German before coming to Austria. The minister also stressed she wanted immigrants to accept cultural and juridical rules in Europe “such as that men don’t stand above women in Europe”.”People should learn our language and our values,” she told the Kurier.Asked whether integration difficulties would especially occur in the Muslim community, the minister pointed out she did not want to single out one denomination.Integration issues dominated campaigning ahead of last month’s provincial parliament election in Styria. The topic has also played a dominant role in Vienna where 1.144 residents are eligible to elect their city parliament and district representations this Sunday (10 October).Around 44 per cent of residents in the capital have a so-called migratory background, meaning that either themselves or their family moved to Austria from abroad. Germans make the biggest group of foreigners living in Austria and Vienna, but public debate has been focused on Muslims from Turkey and other countries.The right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), which improved by 6.3 per cent to win 10.9 per cent in Styria last month, has claimed the ruling Vienna Social Democrats (SPÖ) have done nothing about avoiding “parallel societies” in some districts with strong Muslim communities.SPÖ Mayor Michael Häupl said his goal was to “create a safe Vienna living for everybody at both day and night time”. He, however, also pointed out everybody living in the capital must stick to its “house rules”.”We must speak with, not about ethnic minorities,” he said.FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache, whose party garnered 14.8 per cent in the 2005 Vienna ballot, stressed he did not have anything against “hard-working and honest foreigners who have integrated well”. He accused the SPÖ of doing more for immigrants than the Austrian youth, and caused outcry by labelling the SPÖ an “Islamist party”.It has to be seen whether his decision to run a poster campaign of far-right and xenophobic slogans will backfire – or help ensure second place ahead of the ÖVP (2005: 18.8 per cent) and the Greens (14.6 per cent).Research by GfK found a majority of immigrants across Austria backed the SPÖ in the 2008 general election, while only 14 per cent supported the FPÖ. Around 10 to 12 per cent supported the ÖVP and the Green Party each.Non-EU citizens living in Vienna are not eligible to participate in the election on Sunday, while people from EU countries can take part in the district representation election but not in the city council vote. Both ballots will take place this Sunday.The SPÖ are expected to lose the absolute majority it retained in the election five years ago. All opposition parties agreed around half a year ago to team up to try to change the city constitution since the current regulations mean that 49.1 per cent in votes were enough for the SPÖ to claim most seats in the city parliament.