Berlin - Twelve per cent of employees in Berlin's state authorities and companies come from immigrant families, and that figure isn't high enough for some politicians. The city-state wants to be the first German state to institute an immigrant quota of 35 per cent. A corresponding bill from the interior department was leaked by the Tagesspiegel on Saturday and has been met with outrage and approval in equal measure.

The targeted 35 per cent corresponds to the proportion of people who either immigrated from another country or who have at least one parent who did.

"We claim that all people in this city have the same opportunities," Berlin's integration minister Elke Breitenbach (Die Linke) said on Sunday. "We do not accept structural discrimination."

The quota would apply to state companies such as the BSR waste disposal service and BVG public transport authority, as well as to courts and public prosecutor's offices. Parts of the police force already exceed the quota after the inclusion of "intercultural skills" and "locally used language" in hiring parameters, boosting the percentage to nearly 40 per cent.

If Breitenbach as well as justice minister Dirk Behrendt (Die Grüne) get their way, the category "immigrant family" could influence hiring decisions positively much in the same way as "female" or "disabled".

Should the proposal actually become law, migrant applicants would then be given preference any time the quota hadn't yet been met and they have the same qualifications as other candidates.

"Fixed rules and clear support in the form of a quota are necessary to ensure that more people from migrant families are hired in the administration," Breitenbach said. "We're not going to wait for this to happen on its own."

The bill is currently in the co-signing process, where it is being coordinated with the departments involved. The plan is to introduce the bill to the city-state's parliament before the end of the current legislative period in the fall.

Undecided or even unconstitutional

The proposal would actually just be a modification of Berlin's Participation and Integration Act, which politicians have always seen as an evolving regulation. The concept is included in the current coalition agreement, which also mentions increasing the percentage of immigrants in the public sector and state-owned companies. However, there is no mention of a quota.

Perhaps this is why Breitenbach's initiative hasn't been warmly received by her coalition partner, the SPD.

The SPD is "undecided", domestic policy spokesman Frank Zimmermann tweeted, and another leading Social Democrat told the Berliner Zeitung on Sunday, "Elke's push is damaging to the effort to get more representation from people from immigrant families."

The politicians speculated that Breitenbach was just trying to raise her profile ahead of the party's pending Berlin conference - knowing that a different agreement had already been made.

"We stand by the amendment and the coalition agreement to promote diversity," Martin Pallgen, spokesman for interior minister Andreas Geisel (SPD), said. "There is still disagreement about how this should be done."

Breitenbach said the criticism from coalition partners was wrong.

"In the coalition agreement, there's a mandate to reform this law and we are fulfilling it," Breitenbach said. "But as is so often the case, there are different positions on this within the SPD." 

Berlin CDU head Kai Wegner criticised Breitenbach's idea.

"Quotas would only divide society and lead to discord. And preferential treatment based on ethnographic characteristics would create serious legal problems," Wegner said, accusing the city's red-red-green government of producing an "unconstitutional law by default."

Just politicking

Meanwhile the AfD is threatening to sue if the law becomes reality.

"This kind of quota is clearly unconstitutional. Every German must have an equal chance of getting a public service job if they have the same qualifications," AfD legal policy spokesman Marc Vallendar said. "Ethnicity must not play a role."

"You can tell that we're in an election year and that individual parties prefer to pursue patronage politics rather than objective politics," Norbert Cioma, regional head of the police union, said on Sunday. "In the police force, by the way, we have more than 30 per cent with an immigrant background. But they're not our colleagues because they or their parents were born somewhere else, but rather because they enrich our police force with their skills and work."