The chancellor said immigrants needed to do more to integrate, including learning German [AFP]
Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, has said that the country's attempt to create a multicultural society has "utterly failed", adding fuel to a debate over immigration and Islam which is polarising her conservative coalition.
Speaking to a meeting of young members of her Christian Democrats (CDU), Merkel said allowing people of different cultural backgrounds to live side by side without integrating had not worked in a country that is home to some four million Muslims.
"This [multicultural] approach has failed, utterly failed," Merkel a the meeting in Potsdam on Saturday.
The chancellor said immigrants needed to do more to integrate, including learning German.
Merkel has faced pressure from within her party to take a tougher line on immigrants who do not show a willingness to adapt to German society and her comments appeared intended to pacify her critics.
She said too little had been required of immigrants in the past and repeated her usual line that they should learn German in order to get by in school and have opportunities in the labour market.
Professor Hajo Funke, a social scientist from the Free University of Berlin, told Al Jazeera that he disagreed with Merkel's comments that multiculturalism had failed.
"We are for integration, we have a lot of success within the immigration and we have to do more to integrate by language and the everyday behaviour of people," he said.
"It is necessary for the chances of the minorities to learn German, to get a hold on jobs and the education system ... the government is doing a lot that all people can learn German.
"So it's a challenging for more integration, not saying we don't want integration ... we have to challenge our behaviour, our political behaviour, to do more than before, and this is true also for the immigrants."
The debate over foreigners in Germany has shifted since Thilo Sarrazin, a former central banker, published a book saying Muslim immigrants lowered the intelligence of German society.
Sarrazin was criticised for his views and stepped down from the Bundesbank last month, but his book proved highly popular and polls showed a majority of Germans agreed with the thrust of his arguments.
Earlier this month, Merkel held talks with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, in which the two leaders promised to do more to improve the often poor integration record of the estimated 2.5 million-strong Turkish community living in Germany.
Turkish immigrants and Germans reacted to Merkel's remarks on Sunday morning at a flea market in Kreuzberg, a predominantly Turkish neighbourhood of the capital Berlin.
Statistically the area has a large percentage of first and second generation immigrants of Turkish ancestry, and is characterised by low average incomes and high unemployment.
|Gul encouraged the Turkish community living in Germany to better integrate into German society [EPA]
"I think it is dangerous to say such things as a politician in public," Sven Stripp said.
"One is then on the same level with other politicians, for example the one [Sarrazin] who just recently released a book and received a lot of criticism for it."
Daniela Jonas said: "I think her statement is very black and white and does not reflect honestly on the lifestyle people are living here. I don't think it is good what she said."
Hakim, a Moroccan living in Berlin, said: "It does not surprise me that Merkel says such things, she is from the CDU, but we have already heard things like that from the SPD as well.
"It's a shame. It is not good for the atmosphere in Germany and it is not a helpful comment."
In an interview on Saturday, Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, encouraged the Turkish community living in Germany to better integrate into German society.
In comments published in the Suedeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, Gul said: "When one doesn't speak the language of the country in which one lives that doesn't serve anyone, neither the person concerned, the country, nor the society.
"That is why I tell them at every opportunity that they should learn German, and speak it fluently and without an accent. That should start at nurseries."
Gul said that if Mesut Ozil, a German footballer of Turkish descent, "had asked me which side to play for, I would have encouraged him to play for Germany".
The president said Ozul, who scored one of the German goals in their October 8 defeat of Turkey 3-0 in a Euro 2012 group A qualifying match in Berlin, is "an example of very successful integration".
Merkel has tried to accommodate both sides of the debate, talking tough on integration but also telling Germans that they must accept that mosques have become part of their landscape.
She said on Saturday that the education of unemployed Germans should take priority over recruiting workers from abroad, while noting Germany could not get by without skilled foreign workers.
In a weekend newspaper interview, Ursula von der Leyen, Merkel's labour minister, raised the possibility of lowering barriers to entry for some foreign workers in order to tackle the lack of skilled workers in Europe's largest economy.
"For a few years, more people have been leaving our country than entering it," she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
"Wherever it is possible, we must lower the entry hurdles for those who bring the country forward."
The German Chamber of Industry and Commerce says the country lacks about 400,000 skilled workers.
However, Horst Seehofer, the chairman of the Christian Social Union, the CDU's sister party, has rejected any relaxation of immigration laws and said last week there was no room in Germany for more people from "alien cultures".
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies