BERLIN (Reuters) – New Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Islam did not belong to Germany, in an interview published on Friday, setting him on a collision course with Chancellor Angela Merkel who has stressed the need to integrate Muslims.
Seehofer also set out a range of hardline policies on immigration, as the new coalition prepares to see off the rising challenge of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which entered the national parliament in last year’s elections.
“Islam does not belong to Germany,” Seehofer told mass-selling Bild newspaper, contradicting former German president Christian Wulff who fuelled a debate over immigration in 2010 by saying Islam was part of Germany.
In 2015 Merkel echoed Wulff’s words at a time when anti-immigration campaign group PEGIDA – or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West – was holding marches.
The German government estimates between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims are living in Germany. Many of them have a Turkish background and many of the more than a million migrants who have arrived in the country from the Middle East and elsewhere after Merkel adopted an open-door policy in mid-2015 are also Muslims.
Seehofer – a member of Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies who are further to the right than her own Christian Democrats (CDU) – said he would implement a “master plan for quicker deportations”.
He also promised to do more to tackle the reasons people flee and classify more states as ‘safe’ countries of origin, which would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers.
“Of course the Muslims living here do belong to Germany,” Seehofer said before going on to say Germany should not give up its own traditions or customs, which had Christianity at their heart.
“My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us,” said Seehofer, who was sworn in as interior minister on Wednesday.
Seehofer is keen to show his party is tackling immigration ahead of Bavaria’s October regional election, when the AfD is expected to enter that state assembly.
In a coalition agreement, Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative bloc and the Social Democrats (SPD) agreed they would manage and limit migration to Germany and Europe to avoid a re-run of the 2015 refugee crisis.
They also said they did not expect migration (excluding labour migration) to rise above the range of 180,000 to 220,000 per year.
(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)