Listening to Local Leadership in Cologne: Mayor Jürgen Roters

May 31st, 2012

As part of our Good Ideas from Successful Cities: Municipal Leadership on Immigrant Integration, we ask mayors and city leaders for their views on immigration, local initiatives and the future of their cities.

Jürgen Roters
Mayor of Cologne (Oberbürgermeister der Stadt Köln)
In conversation with Claudia Walther, Bertelsmann Stiftung

Why is the theme of migration and integration so important for your city of Cologne?

Cologne has been a migration city for many centuries. People from over 180 different nationalities are living in the city and almost one third of the population has roots in another country and culture.

That’s why it’s important that this segment of the population, this segment of the society, can participate in what’s happening in our city. As well, we want to see this variety as a big enrichment. That is really important to Cologne.

What we also see is how all these people from different cultures, ethnicities and religions can live together in peace.

In your opinion, which immigration initiative or program, that the city of Cologne introduced, has been successful?

We recognized early that we have to welcome all newcomers with respect and acceptance.  The first advisory council for foreigners was founded in 1984. At that time it was organized rather informally, and it worked next to city council.

Since then, we’ve learned from our experiences and have now a migration council, which is part of our parliamentary system. This migration council consists of 22 elected candidates with migration background and 11 city councillors.

What’s next on your agenda regarding integration of newcomers and people with migration background?

What’s positive about Cologne is the fact that we have a multitude of initiatives where people work on a voluntary basis and where migration plays an important part.

But migration is not the only focus – others are questions of social participation and civic integration, and not just for foreign residents but also for Germans. That’s how we achieve some equality of interests.

Also close to my heart is that we don’t just create programs for migrants, but that they overlap with a focus on mutual participation, and a right to eduction for all.

Which project or program would you like to bring to Cologne (or initiate)?

What’s close to my heart is the theme of “Neighbourhood Mothers.” We recognized, similar to other cities, that we need to win over the mothers from migrant families and to interest them to be partly responsible in the education opportunities of young people.

They then become “multiplicators,” even work full-time, and go to families to promote the importance of graduating from school, how important it is to be part of the community, and that there should be a focus on taking advantage of all opportunities.

Because we need everyone.

Looking at our democracy, we can’t allow for young people with migrant background to have a much higher school dropout rate than the others. That’s why we need to make a special effort.

We have the “Project Backpack,” where mothers work together with their kids on their home work. We’ve had very positive experiences, and the kids, the mothers and the teachers have a lot of fun.

Which other cities inspire you in the area of integration and migration?

I believe it’s very important that you look across borders. Of course, first you have to look at your own city and understand what you can realize within your own walls – what experiences a city has, what traditions, what cultural traditions. But you can always learn from others.

For example, take Berlin Neuköln, a municipal district with many social hardships, but one that has brought to the forefront many issues through hard work in the area of city development and the organization of the education system.

Also our sister-city Rotterdam, to look at a city outside of Germany, shows us for example how to set up a health network. This really is a very important topic for migrants to focus very early on health issues. We know that young migrants contract diseases more easily than non-migrants.

When your recognize that there are disadvantages in education, in social social services and health care, then you have to do something about it. And that’s where Rotterdam sets an example.

Jürgen Roters was born in 1949 and studied law. In 1978 he became commissioner with the regional government in Muenster (Germany, federal state of Northrhine-Westfalia) and in 1981 head of division with the ministry for culture in Northrhine-Westfalia. A year later he took over the chair of the Cologne Administrative College. In 1988 he changed to the home ministry of Northrhine-Westfalia as head of the minister’s office. He became superintendent of the Cologne police in 1995 and in 1999 president of the regional government until 2005. Until his election as mayor of Cologne he worked as freelance author and surveyor. Mr. Roters is member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

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