Migration representation: People with a migration background are still underrepresented in Germany’s federal and state parliaments. The research project "Repchance" wants to know how to do it better – and also reveals the biggest pitfalls on the path into politics.
Ekin Deligöz, Parliamentary State Secretary in the German Bundestag, believes that people from immigrant backgrounds who go into politics often hit a brick wall. Deligöz moved to Germany from Turkey with her family as a child. She chose career in politics: As a Member of the German Bundestag since 1998 ¬– one with a migration background – she repeatedly comes up against constraints: "Prejudices and tendencies toward discrimination are omnipresent in my work environment. No matter what position I take, I always start from scratch. A woman with a migration background always has to prove herself," she says.
She has been a member of the Bündnis 90/Greens since 1988 and a member of the German Bundestag since 1998. She has served as deputy chairwoman of the Committee for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth and as spokeswoman for children's and youth policy for the Bündnis 90/Greens parliamentary group. Deligöz is currently Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
Are Ekin Deligöz's experiences typical of our political system? What factors help people with a migration background as they seek political office? And what about the representation of these population groups in Germany’s federal and state parliaments? The "Repchance" research project, funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung, takes a closer look at these questions.
"One of the things we do is conduct personal interviews with Members of Parliament to find out what helped their careers," explains Andreas Wüst, Professor of Political Science at Munich University of Applied Sciences and head of the research project. "For example, we asked whether there were certain support programs that helped get people elected to parliaments or make a career in politics," he says. "Our findings so far suggest that large, structured offerings are not as important for political success. Small-scale networks seem to be more conducive."
Andreas Wüst is a Professor of Political science at Munich University of Applied Science. His research focuses on elections and representation as well as integration. Prior to his time in Munich, Wüst was a lecturer at the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Stuttgart.
In general, the road to politics for people with a migration background in Germany seems rocky. The first quantitative results of the study show a gaping hole in representation – especially at the state level. According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 27 percent of the German population had a migration background in 2021. At the same time, however, only 7.2 percent of those elected to parliament at the state level were citizens with their own or a family background of migration.
Parties are a decisive factor in this imbalance. Wüst attributes a kind of gatekeeper function to them: "Parties are selectors. By deciding on state lists of candidates, they determine who has a good chance of entering parliament and who doesn't," he says. There are many reasons for who ultimately ends up on such a list. In some cases, parties have to fulfill certain proportional representation requirements or quotas, which often catapult candidates with a migration background out of the running. Ekin Deligöz is also familiar with this problem:
"The more direct the election, the fewer chances for people who come from different backgrounds. Parties must create opportunities to bring underrepresented groups into the public eye and make them visible. Otherwise, they don't stand a chance."
This is precisely where most parties have some catching up to do. "Members of parliament with a migration background reported that the openness of their parties still leaves something to be desired. Many say they do not have the same opportunities as people without a migration background. And they find that there are structures in parties that make it difficult for them to succeed," says Wüst.
"That's true," Deligöz confirms. "When you are part of the system as a person with a migration background, you confront prejudices again and again. Often you are supposed to represent a certain image and nothing else. It goes against general expectations when people with a migration background are interested in topics other than those assigned to them."
That's exactly why she wants to do better – and pave the way into politics for people with migrant backgrounds. At her district party headquarters, she recently helped such a young person get a place on the list. "Young applicants benefit from the fact that we have created structures that help them now. I'm glad to be a pioneer in that," says Deligöz. Wüst also definitely sees a positive development.
"Representation is getting better and better, that's the good news. We have made great strides since 1990."
But where to start in closing the gap is still an open question. "Ensuring equal opportunities within the parties is very important. But civil society and funding institutions can also improve opportunities and conditions for those starting out, for example through training or other programs," says Wüst.
He also addresses societal tasks: Many people with a migrant background, for example, are more affected by hate speech than people without,” he said. "As a result, there is often a greater hurdle for them to become politically active. As an open society, we need to address these issues and break down barriers."
In the "Repchance" project, Munich University of Applied Sciences is conducting quantitative and qualitative research to investigate the representation of people with a migration background in German parliaments. The project examines which factors promote – or prevent – political careers for people with a migration background. The first interim results are currently available. Final results, including international comparisons, will be presented in 2024. The research project is funded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.