BERLIN Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday more people of immigrant stock should work for the state in Germany, where a fractious debate about the integration of Muslims has been raging for weeks.
Fueled by divisive comments about Turks and Arabs by central banker Thilo Sarrazin and his book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" (Germany does away with itself), the country has been debating how to balance an economic need for more workers with growing public concern over integration of immigrants.
Interviewed by a 31-year-old Berlin policeman of Turkish origin for her latest internet podcast four days ahead of an integration summit at her chancellery, Merkel said:
"Today, people with a migrant background are under- represented in the public sector, and that needs to change."
However, Merkel -- who earlier this month declared that multiculturalism had "utterly failed" in Germany -- conceded that this was not always easy.
"I've also noticed that if someone has a name that doesn't sound German they can often have trouble being taken on at all in some professions," the chancellor said.
Since Sarrazin inflamed opinion by asserting Turks and Arabs sponged off the state and refused to integrate, some of Merkel's conservatives become more critical of Muslims, who make up an estimated 4 million of Germany's 82 million population.
Sarrazin was ejected from the board of the Bundesbank for his comments, but his book has been flying off the shelves.
Just two months after publication, it is already the best-selling political book by a German author in the country in the past decade, market research firm media control said.
Since 2000, only U.S. author and filmmaker Michael Moore's "Stupid White Men" had sold more in Germany, the firm said.
FEAR OF FOREIGNERS
Among the conservatives to antagonize Muslims were Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, who called for an end to immigration from "alien cultures." He heads the Christian Social Union, sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats.
The center-left and leading business lobbies have criticized such comments, saying they could scare off skilled foreign workers needed to fill growing gaps in the workforce due to Germany's aging and declining population.
Seehofer's comments have tapped into fears also played upon by Sarrazin that Germany is under threat from foreigners.
A survey published this month by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a foundation linked to the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), said 36 percent of respondents believed the country was in danger of being overrun by foreigners.
More than a third of those polled also felt foreigners came to Germany only to exploit the welfare system.
A leading demography expert said Germany was now failing to attract foreign workers in the way it used to.
Reiner Klingholz, director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, said Germany long had an annual influx of 200,000 immigrants but in the last two years had seen a net exodus of 15,000 immigrants.
(Editing by Ralph Boulton)