The Federal Republic of Germany ratified the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Under this Convention, which entered into force for Germany on February 1st 1998, the autochthonous (i. e. resident) minorities and ethnic groups with German nationality living in Germany are protected. These are the Danes, the North Frisians, the Sater Frisians, the Sorbs and the German Sinti and Roma. The Federal Government (Bund) and the Federal States (Länder) provide substantial funding to these groups. Preservation of the Sorb cultural and ethnic identity is guaranteed under an interstate agreement concluded between Land Brandenburg and the Freistaat of Saxony on August 28th 1998 (where traditionally the largest settlement of Sorbs is found).
The above groups are distinguished from immigrants and “Germans with an immigrant background”. Whereas the above-mentioned indigenous minorities all consist of very small populations (e.g. the Sorbs numbering at most 60 000; Sinti and Roma approx. 70 000; Danish minority 8 – 50 000), immigrants and “Germans with an immigrant background” constitute a considerable proportion of the population living in Germany.
In 2014, about 16.4 million people in Germany had an immigrant background. This corresponded to a share of 20.3% of the total population, an increase of 3% compared to the previous year. Most of the persons with immigrant background had a German passport (56.0%), even in the group of immigrants the share was 46.1%. Compared to 2011 the number of persons with immigrant background has increased by a good 1.5 million people (+ 10.3%).
While Germans with an immigrant background have the same political rights as all other Germans, they still frequently suffer from discrimination in everyday life, at school, in seeking accommodation and in the work-place. Foreigners living in Germany are subject to a variety of regulations. Following the reform of the Law Concerning Foreign Residents (1990) and of Citizenship (2000), the Immigration Law of 2005 was a third major political instrument on the way to acknowledge the Federal Republic as a country of immigration, resulting in an improvement of the situation for people from other cultures and countries living here. Binding regulations for immigration and integration were established for the first time in Germany and were officially approved. This is an important development as many conservative politicians refused for a long time to acknowledge that Germany is a country of immigration. For some years, the integration of people of differing ethnic backgrounds, religious orientation and cultural traditions has been regarded not only as a central task of society but increasingly also as a significant challenge to cultural work and cultural policy. Meanwhile, a very diverse intercultural practice has evolved, but in this field there is still a considerable need for further development in many large cultural institutions such as theatres, museums and symphony orchestras. The same is true of cultural policy.
In a growing number of towns (for instance Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Dortmund, Essen, Osnabrück) and federal states (Länder) (for example North Rhine-Westfalia), interdepartmental inclusion concepts exist in which culture plays a significant role and that are equipped with suitable funds. Over the last years, there has been a discussion on the need for cultural policy to accord greater attention to the cultural interests and rights to participation and self-organisation of ethnic minorities.
Since 2006, the Federal Chancellor organised 10 integration summits in Berlin concerning, among other topics, cultural and cultural policy issues. The result of the first integration summit was an agreement to come up with a national plan for integration which was introduced for the first time in 2007. During the fifth integration summit in spring 2012, the National Action Plan for Integration was introduced which further developed the national plan for integration from 2007. Federal government and states agreed on goals for the first time, including the promotion of individual encouragement, to recognise the potential of children, youth and young adults, to improve the recognition of degrees obtained in other countries and to increase the number of people with a migration background in the public services on the federal and state level. During the sixth integration summit in spring 2013 an interim result of the national integration plan was drawn up. The focus was on the topics of work, employment market, qualification and language. The main topic of the eighth integration summit in November 2014 was health and care of the immigration society. The topic of the 9th integration summit in 2016 was participation, that of the 10th integration summit (2018) the cohesion of people with and without migration background.
In addition to the integration summits, a set of country wide conferences were held on intercultural dialogue and diversity, for example by the National Council for Cultural Diversity (Bundesweiter Ratschlag für Kulturelle Vielfalt). Another actor is the Council of Experts of German Foundations for Integration and Migration (Sachverständigenrat Deutscher Stiftungen für Integration und Migration), an independent, scientific body that adopts positions on integration and migration policy issues.
The body is made up of seven foundations: the Stiftung Mercator, Volkswagen Stiftung, Bertelsmann Stiftung, Freudenberg Stiftung, Bosch-Stiftung, Stifterverband für die deutsche Wissenschaft and Vodafone Stiftung Deutschland. In recent years, several documents were produced on integration and cultural diversity, such as Cultural Diversity in the City Community (German Association of Cities and Towns 2004); Stuttgart’s Impulse to Cultural Diversity (2006); the National Integration Plan of the Federal Government (2007); the Cologne Appeal (German Association of Cities and Towns North Rhine-Westphalia 2008); Intercultural Integration Report. Munich lives diversity (City of Munich 2010); Intercultural cultural activities (Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder (KMK) 2011); and the National Action Plan Integration (2012).
A study from May 2012 outlines the status of the municipal integration policy in Germany. Particular attention is currently being paid to the importance of school and pre-school education for the mediation of intercultural expertise and the acceptance of cultural diversity. Concrete stipulations are suggested in several education plans for pre-schools and primary schools of the individual federal states (Länder). There are some special institutions and funding available to promote the art and culture of national and ethnic minorities for the purpose of intercultural exchange. Intercultural programmes are offered or sponsored inter aliaby the federally funded House of World Cultures (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), by the federally endowed Sociocultural Fund and in the context of projects (such as the celebrations of foreign cultures) launched by individual federal states (Länder) and numerous municipalities.
In 2005, the Federal Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration was housed organisationally within the Chancellery, enhancing significance to the Minister of State. Present officeholder is Annette Widman-Mauz (CDU) since 2018. One of her tasks is to present a report on the situation of foreigners in Germany at least every two years.
In May 2015, the 10th report was presented with main focusses on education – from early childhood up to the course of studies – as well as training and employment market. It contains self-critical passages such as “the data situation shows that … the step towards an immigration society is done too hesitant” and “that our educational system does not always manage to allow educational success according to their skills and potentials regardless of their social background”. In December 2019, the 12th report was published: Germany can integrate: promoting potential, demanding integration, strengthening cohesion.