In Germany, the Free Democratic Party calls again to make English used in all public offices

Germany faces a shortage of skilled workers and the Free Democratic Party advocates for public administration to be more welcoming to workers who don’t speak German with the use of English. It’s not that simple.

Bundestag’s building | © Maheshkumar Painam

General Secretary of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) Bijan Djir-Sarai told local Bavarian news media last week that the FDP wants English to become the second administrative language in the country after German.

Anyone who speaks English must not fail because of German authorities,” arguing German administration makes it more challenging to bring skilled workers into the country amid fierce “global competition for the brightest minds.”

With this push for making administrative procedures and the first experience with Germany for incoming residents easier, Bijan Djir-Sarai reacts to the latest predictions of a shortage of skilled workers. By 2026, the federal government expects a shortage of around 240,000 skilled workers.

Companies “are open to English-speaking applicants,” the FDP secretary general said., “then one can also expect our authorities and administrations to be able to offer these people full service in English.”

With an aging population leaving the job market, the shortage of the working-age population is a massive issue for Germany now and in the years to come.

The Research Institute of the Federal Employment Agency (IAB) forecasts that 400,000 people coming to Germany every year would be necessary to compensate for the shortage of workers. “Since the increase in domestic labor force participation is reaching its limits, net immigration of up to 400,000 people per year is necessary in order to keep the labor force potential constant in the longer term.”

Economic immigration in Germany is currently limited to 60,000 people per year. But for Bernd Fitzenberger, the director of IAB, “labor immigration from third countries would have to increase in order to cover the growing shortage of skilled workers,” adding that “the federal government’s reform proposals are right, but they are not enough.”

A survey conducted by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) of 22,000 German companies at the end of last year showed that 53 percent declare being affected by the labor shortage. DIHK assumes 2 million positions are vacant in Germany, costing almost 100 billion euros (107 billion dollars) in lost value creation potential to the German economy.

Skilled workers are the ones German companies seek to recruit the most, and many already don’t hesitate to recruit young talents who speak English but don’t speak German.

We should be open to skilled workers who don’t speak German at the beginning but speak English well. That would clearly increase the chances of a successful policy on the immigration of skilled workers,” points out Peter Adrian, the president of the DIHK, in favor of having English as an official administrative language, while emphasizing that speaking German is helpful for integration in society in the long term.

The German business representatives would prefer the use of English to be more widespread like in Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway or Denmark where their native language can also be a barrier to be attractive.

Last July, making English the second administrative language was part of the 10 proposal points made by the FDP, the center-right party promoting the free market and member of the “traffic light coalition” government, to make Germany more attractive to foreign workers along with quicker digital The UK removes tourist visa requirements for Colombia, Peru and Guyana hoping to bring more visitorsvisa issuance and a point system for labor immigration. So far only the FDP, whose website is solely written in German, pushes to introduce English as an official administrative language.

But on the other hand, the German Civil Service Federation (DBB), Germany’s second-largest trade union center, reacted negatively to the proposal. Spokeswoman Britta Ibald in July argued introducing English as a second official language everywhere in the country regardless of regional specificities and specialties doesn’t seem very effective compared to the additional effort required, with the risk to add a lot of bureaucracy.

Although there is no official language in Germany’s constitution, German is the basis of all federal laws and court decisions in the country and would require precise translation. And state administrations would also need to adopt English as their second language.

The German Association of Towns and Municipalities also argued that such a change would take years to implement as English-speaking staff needs to be hired. The association advocates for more efficiency and digitization as public offices are and will also be affected by the shortage of workers. Over the next ten years, municipalities will lose 500,000 people, about a third of their workforce, according to the association.

Bettina Stark-Watzinger, Federal Minister of Education from the FDP, acknowledged that “bilingualism in the administration cannot be implemented immediately.”

But the FDP calls about this idea of an English-speaking country is even older. In 2014 already, an FDP member and elected at the European Parliament at the time, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff in an opinion piece advocated for English to become one of Germany’s administrative languages.

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