German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer: 'Islam doesn't belong to Germany'

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New German government sworn in

In a slight to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, new Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Islam is not part of German culture. His comments underscore his efforts to push the government to the right.

Germany's new government may now finally be in place, but  Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition appears to be off to a rocky start.

On Thursday, newly inaugurated Interior Minister Horst Seehofer disagreed with the belief that the Islamic faith is part of German culture — a statement that Merkel has repeatedly made since 2015.

"No. Islam does not belong to Germany," he said in an interview with the German daily Bild newspaper. "Germany has been shaped by Christianity."

Read moreA deeper look at Germany's new Interior and Heimat Ministry

Certain Christian-inspired aspects are part of daily life and culture in Germany, Seehofer said, naming examples such as shops being closed on Sundays and public holidays that correspond to church holidays like Easter, Pentecost and Christmas.

Seehofer told the paper that people who practice Islam are, of course, part of Germany.

"The Muslims who live with us obviously belong to Germany," he noted, adding that "false consideration for others clearly does not mean we give up our country-specific traditions and customs."

Read moreGermany's future interior minister Horst Seehofer vows to increase deportations

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Chancellor: Angela Merkel (CDU)

Christian Democrat (CDU) Angela Merkel is Germany's chancellor. She is in her fourth term as leader of the German government and in her third at the head of a "grand coalition" between the CDU, its conservative Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democrats (SPD). Merkel says she will not run for chancellor at the next general election in 2021.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister of the Interior, Heimat and Construction: Horst Seehofer (CSU)

Seehofer was Bavaria's state premier until he took over the interior portfolio in Merkel's Cabinet. This will be the first time that the vaguely patriotic "Heimat" concept (roughly "homeland") is included in the interior minister's domain. Bavaria, however, has had a state Heimat Ministry for five years. Seehofer remains head of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) in Bavaria.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister for Foreign Affairs: Heiko Maas (SPD)

Former Justice Minister Heiko Maas succeeded his Social Democrat colleague, Sigmar Gabriel, as foreign minister in March. Maas was in charge of the Justice Ministry when the government passed a controversial internet law to combat hate speech online.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Finance Minister: Olaf Scholz (SPD)

Scholz served as mayor of Hamburg before moving to Berlin to take the reins at the Finance Ministry. The Finance Ministry's capture was a significant win for the SPD. Scholz will also serve as vice-chancellor. He had been in Merkel's Cabinet once before, as minister of labor and social affairs from 2007 to 2009.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister of Defense: Ursula von der Leyen (CDU)

Von der Leyen has been defense minister since 2013 and kept her job in the new government. This comes despite numerous scandals within the Bundeswehr, Germany's military, that broke since she took over the Defense Ministry. Her relationship with the troops suffered, but Merkel trusts her.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Economic and Energy Affairs Minister: Peter Altmaier (CDU)

Altmaier was Merkel's chief of staff at the Chancellery before his nomination to take over the Economy Ministry. The last time a CDU politician was in the post was half a century before. Altmaier is regarded as extremely loyal to the chancellor.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection: Katarina Barley (SPD)

Katarina Barley took over as justice minister after serving as both minister of family affairs and labor in the previous government. The 49-year-old is a lawyer by training and holds both British and German citizenship.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister of Labor and Social Affairs: Hubertus Heil (SPD)

Hubertus Heil succeeded Andrea Nahles, who stepped down to take over as head of the SPD. A member of the Bundestag since 1998, Heil has twice served as the party's secretary general.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister for the Environment: Svenja Schulze (SPD)

Svenja Schulze replaced party colleague Barbara Hendricks, Germany's former minister for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety, in March. Schulze previously served as minister for innovation, science and research in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister for Health: Jens Spahn (CDU)

Jens Spahn, 37, is representative of a new political generation within the CDU and seen as a future contender for party leadership. In the last government, he served as the parliamentary state secretary in the Finance Ministry. Prior to that, he helped lead the CDU's health policy in the Bundestag.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister of Education and Research: Anja Karliczek (CDU)

Anja Karliczek, a former hotel manager who is relatively unknown, was nominated by Merkel to take over the Education Ministry. She had a lot of money to spend: The ministry's budget was increased by €11 billion ($13.6 billion) to pay for school and university improvements shortly before her appointment.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth: Franziska Giffey (SPD)

Franziska Giffey's elevation from the mayor of Berlin's Neukölln district to cabinet minister was perhaps one of the most eye-catching appointments. Giffey bypassed the Bundestag altogether to ascend into government. But the SPD leadership believed her experience in charge of what has often been described as Berlin's "troubled" district made her the most suitable candidate for the role.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development: Gerd Müller (CSU)

Gerd Müller, 62, retained his post as development minister, which he has held since December 2013. He won the job over fellow CSU member Dorothee Bär, who was also in the running. Bär became the state minister for digital affairs in the chancellery, a newly created job.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure: Andreas Scheuer (CSU)

Scheuer, considered a close ally of CSU party head Seehofer, took over the Transport Ministry from party colleague Alexander Dobrindt. He is experienced in the field: From 2009 to 2013, he was parliamentary state secretary in the Transport Ministry. Prior to his latest appointment, he was the CSU's secretary general.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Minister for Food and Agriculture: Julia Klöckner (CDU)

Klöckner previously worked as parliamentary state secretary in the Agriculture Ministry from 2009 to 2011. Between her ministerial stints in Berlin, she was deputy chair of the CDU and headed the CDU in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

Ministers under Merkel: Germany's new government

Chief of Staff at the Chancellery: Helge Braun (CDU)

Helge Braun took over from CDU colleague Peter Altmaier as Chancellery head in March. He had previously served in deputy positions in the Chancellery and Education Ministry.

Seehofer's move to the Heimat Ministry

Seehofer is taking the reins of the interior ministry, which is now officially called the Interior, Construction and Heimat Ministry. The term Heimat — which roughly translates to "homeland" — stirs up feelings of being at home and belonging to a place, but it also comes laden with connotations from the Nazi era.

Read more'Heimat' finds a homecoming in German politics

Related Subjects

During his interview with the Bild, Seehofer rejected the criticism that the new German Cabinet doesn't include any people of color, or those with an immigrant background.

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DW News | 12.03.2018

Markel's chief of staff discusses new migration policy

"Do I have to be a doctor in order to be health minister?" he asked, adding that an immigrant background does not make someone qualified to be a good politician.

Seehofer's comments also depict the Bavarian politician's intent to steer his Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) and the new German government into a more conservative direction and win back voters who switched to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Read moreGermany: Is Bavaria set for an anti-Merkel conservative swing?

The phrase "Islam doesn't belong to Germany" was a central pillar of the AfD's party platform in last year's general election. The populist party is now the third-largest bloc in parliament and Germany's largest opposition party.

Seehofer has also vowed to increase deportations of rejected asylum-seekers in his role as interior minister.

The CSU leader has frequently bumped heads with Merkel in the past and has been vocal in his criticism of the chancellor's refugee and immigration policies.

Merkel started a fourth term as chancellor on Wednesday after her Christian Democrats, the CSU and the Social Democrats sealed a coalition deal after months of negotiations.

DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How successful is linguistic integration?

Three quarters of German-born Muslims grow up with German as a first language. Among immigrants, only one fifth claim that German is their first language. The trend of language skills improving with successive generations is apparent across Europe. In Germany 46 percent of all Muslims say that their national language is their first language. In Austria this is 37 percent, Switzerland 34 percent.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How do Muslims view interreligious relationships?

According to a 2017 study by Religion Monitor, 87 percent of Swiss Muslims have frequent contact with non-Muslims in their free time. In Germany and France it is 78 percent, while in the UK it's 68 percent and Austria, 62 percent. A large majority of Muslims in succeeding generations are found to have constant contact with non-Muslims, despite existing societal hurdles.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

Do Muslims feel connected in Europe?

Ninety-six percent of French Muslims feel connected with their country. The percentage of Muslims feeling the same way is equally high in Germany, while Switzerland has the highest levels, at 98 percent. Yet despite its relatively longer history of institutional openness to religious and cultural diversity, fewer Muslims, (89 percent) report feeling close ties to the UK.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How important is religion in the daily life of European Muslims?

Muslims from immigrant families maintain a strong religious commitment which continues across generations. Sixty-four percent of Muslims living in the UK describe themselves as highly religious. The share of devout Muslims stands at 42 percent in Austria, 39 percent in Germany, 33 percent in France and 26 percent in Switzerland.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

What percentage of Muslim students pursue a degree?

According to data, 36 percent of German-born Muslims finish their education by the age of 17, without pursuing further studies. In Austria too, this proportion is around 39 percent. On the other hand, owing to a more equitable school system in France, Muslims there register significantly better educational outcomes. Only one in ten Muslim students leaves school before reaching 17.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

What percentage of Muslims are in the job market?

About 60 percent of all Muslims who moved to Germany before 2010 now hold a full-time job, while 20 percent work part-time jobs. The figures are similar to those of non-Muslims. Muslims in Germany had higher employment rates than in other European countries. In France, the unemployment rate among Muslims is 14 percent, far higher than the 8 percent reported for non-Muslims.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

How widespread is the rejection of Islam?

More than one in four non-Muslims in Austria do not want Muslims neighbors. This percentage is remarkably high in the UK as well, at 21 percent. In Germany, 19 percent of non-Muslim respondents say that they would not welcome Muslim neighbors. The figure stands at 17 percent in Switzerland and 14 percent in France. Overall, Muslims are among the most rejected social group.

Muslims in Europe: Integrated or not?

‘Muslims in Europe - Integrated but not accepted’

The information included in this picture gallery is from the Bertelsmann Foundation’s study titled ‘Muslims in Europe - Integrated but not accepted?’ Conclusions are based on a representative survey of more than 10,000 people in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and the UK. Muslim refugees who arrived in Europe after 2010 were not surveyed for the study.