According to the statement released by the Bertelsmann Stiftung announcing the prize, Süssmuth has altered Germans’ attitudes toward immigration through her policymaking efforts. Germany’s integration programs for immigrants, the reform of its citizenship law, the legal framework governing immigration, the opening of its labor market and its strategies for attracting highly skilled labor would not have been possible if Germany had continued to prevent immigrants from coming to the country and continued to maintain that ancestry alone determines national identity.
In the mid-1990s Süssmuth became the first prominent member of the CDU/CSU alliance to say publically that Germany should acknowledge its de facto role as a destination country for immigrants. The commission on immigration that Süssmuth was asked to lead beginning in autumn 2000 by the ruling coalition of SPD and Green parties provided key impetus for legal reforms and a more welcoming attitude toward immigrants. The final report issued by what became known as the “Süssmuth Commission” began with the words “Deutschland ist ein Zuwanderungsland” (Germany is a country of immigration), marking a turning point in the nation’s history of migration and integration.
Even if the recommendations made by the commission were not directly endorsed by the majority of policymakers, the country’s 2005 law on immigration included many of the ideas it advanced. “Rita Süssmuth played a key role in ensuring Germany no longer sees diversity as a burden, but as an opportunity,” said Liz Mohn, vice-chair of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board. Germany is now one of the preferred destination countries for immigrants from around the world and its policies on migration and integration serve as models for others.
The Bertelsmann Stiftung is also using the award to recognize the longtime Bundestag president’s efforts to ensure that the needs of countries of origin are also given fair consideration. In 2005 Süssmuth participated in the Global Commission on International Migration formed by then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, winner of the 2013 Reinhard Mohn Prize. In addition, she works closely with European Union policymakers on issues relating to migration and integration. She is also a member of the Transatlantic Council on Migration organized by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute.
The Bertelsmann Stiftung is honoring Süssmuth as a bridge builder between political camps, between political actors, the business community and civil society, and between religions. She has dedicated herself to promoting understanding with France, Poland and Turkey in particular and is founding president of the first Turkish-German university in Istanbul.
In addition to her political efforts Süssmuth is active in numerous civil-society projects. She helped launch and has since closely supported the Sachverständigenrat deutscher Stiftungen für Migration und Integration (Expert Council of German Foundations on Migration and Integration), originally initiated by the Foundation Mercator and the Volkswagen Foundation. In addition, she promotes the Vodafone Foundation’s Buddy project, which helps school students increase their civic engagement.
Over the years Süssmuth has also been involved in numerous Bertelsmann Stiftung projects. Reinhard Mohn, founder of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the prize’s namesake, was highly appreciative of Süssmuth’s work and visionary power. She was a member of the foundation’s Advisory Board from 1997 to 2007 and subsequently joined its Board of Trustees, the foundation’s supervisory and controlling body.