Q&A - Why is banker Sarrazin such a headache for Germany?

BERLIN, Sept 2 Thu Sep 2, 2010 10:02am EDT

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BERLIN, Sept 2 (Reuters) - German central banker Thilo Sarrazin has divided public opinion with remarks about Muslim immigrants and comments about the genetic make-up of Jews, prompting calls for him to step down.

Leading politicians have called for the Bundesbank to dismiss the 65-year-old, who has dominated headlines in the public furore surrounding the launch of his book, "Deutschland schafft sich ab" (Germany does away with itself).

The Bundesbank has met to discuss Sarrazin's fate this week, but has yet to announce a formal decision.

Following are some questions and answers about the case and why it has sparked such outcry in Germany.

WHAT CAUSED THE CONTROVERSY?

Much of the anger has focused on a chapter in the book Sarrazin devotes to immigrants and their integration in Germany, whose population is ageing and shrinking. Excerpts from the book featured in German media include the following:

"In every European country, due to their low participation in the labour market and high claim on state welfare benefits, Muslim migrants cost the state more than they generate in added economic value. In terms of culture and civilisation, their notions of society and values are a step backwards."

"I don't want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live in a mostly Muslim country where Turkish and Arabic are widely spoken, women wear headscarves and the day's rhythm is determined by the call of the muezzin."

"If the birth rate of migrants remains higher than that of the indigenous population, within a few generations, the migrants will take over the state and society."

"I don't want us to end up as strangers in our own land, not even on a regional basis."

"From today's perspective, the immigration of guest workers in the 1960s and 1970s was a gigantic mistake."

The remarks were not the first time Sarrazin has offended Muslims. Last year he was stripped of some of his duties at the Bundesbank after comments in a magazine interview:

"I don't need to accept anyone who lives off the state, rejects this country ... and is always producing little girls with headscarves. This is true of 70 percent of the Turkish and 90 percent of the Arab population of Berlin," he said.

On Sunday, the day before his book was officially published, Sarrazin drew complaints with musings about Jews.

"All Jews share a particular gene, Basques share a certain gene that sets them apart," he told paper told Welt am Sonntag.

WHAT WAS THE REACTION?

Chancellor Angela Merkel, senior ministers and all of Germany's main political parties have rebuked Sarrazin, who belongs to the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD has begun proceedings to throw him out of the party.

Muslim, Christian and Jewish groups have condemned Sarrazin, saying his words -- which have won praise from far-right parties in Germany and abroad -- risk inflaming racial tensions and marginalising minorities.

On Thursday, a U.S. Holocaust survivors' group said it would lobby German embassies worldwide for the ex-finance minister of the city state of Berlin to be fired. [ID:nLDE6810C3]

Supporters say Sarrazin has broken a taboo on the impact of immigration by highlighting painful truths, and bringing attention to the issue with his confrontational style.

But many advocates of improving integration say Sarrazin has made it harder to hold objective debate on the matter by polarising opinion and obscuring the facts with disputed claims.

Recent polls show Germans are divided about whether Sarrazin should be dismissed from the Bundesbank. [ID:nLDE6801ZT]

IS IT EASY TO FIRE BUNDESBANK BOARD MEMBERS?

No. The Bundesbank's statutes are designed to ensure its independence from the government and shield it from political interference.

This means Merkel's coalition cannot sack Bundesbank board members and even the bank itself would find this difficult. Sarrazin can only be dismissed if there is evidence of serious misconduct, yet what constitutes this is not clearly defined. Some legal experts say it may suffice to show the economist has damaged the bank's reputation.

If the bank's board elects to dismiss him, the decision must be approved by German President Christian Wulff. German media have speculated Sarrazin could fight his removal in court.

Sarrazin and the bank have argued his theories are his personal opinion and are not linked to his work at the bank.

However, officials like Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble say Sarrazin has hurt Germany's reputation and Wulff himself has urged the Bundesbank to take action.

WHY DOES IT MATTER TO GERMANY?

Since Nazi Germany carried out the extermination of an estimated six million Jews in World War Two, the country has been at pains to take a stand against the persecution of minorities and present itself as a tolerant, liberal society.

Sarrazin's comments have also caused embarrassment to the Bundesbank, whose president, Axel Weber, has the support of many German leaders to succeed European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet when he stands down next year.

The Bundesbank, one of the pillars of West Germany's postwar recovery, is unlikely to want a long-drawn out court battle with Sarrazin which could undermine Weber's chances.

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