How do you solve a problem like Angela?

On Sunday, the Day of German Unity, the German radio station Deutschlandfunk (similar to NPR) broadcast an interview with Chancellor Angela Merkel in which she stated that she would reject the changes proposed by the CSU which hoped to reform asylum law. This statement, although coded, made headlines in the FAZ , on n-tv, in the SZ, and in video form at the tagesschau , and it was often portrayed as a direct retort to Markus Söder’s desire to change the German Basic Law to limit those seeking asylum.

This interview with Stephan Detjen runs a remarkable twenty-five minutes, has the flavor of a fireside chat, and outlines Merkel’s position (Haltung) towards the question of refugee politics, for which she has come under fire, especially from members of her own party (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party (CSU).  After opening the border on September 4, 2015, Merkel was criticized  – especially from CDU party leader Horst Seehofer – as having made a grave mistake that will have long-lasting effects. Merkel retorted that the basic right to asylum “does not have an upper limit” (kennt keine Obergrenze). 

In terms of European politics, Merkel’s role during the Greek financial crisis as the taskmaster of German austerity contrasts starkly alongside her newfound position as a suddenly liberal proponent of refugee politics (which, only a few months ago seemed impossible as she was being criticized for telling a teenage Palestinian girl, Reem, at a town-hall-style meeting that Germany could not accept every refugee). (Reem’s story had what the Germans call a Happy-End, since her residency application was later accepted.) Germans seem to be struggling to understand their Chancellor – Die Zeit from a couple weeks ago (9/17/2015) featured a long-form portrait of Merkel’s role in the refugee process with the front-page headline, “Does she know what she’s doing?” Over the next week I will take a closer look at the German chancellor and her current role as a critic within her own party.

To begin, we might let the Chancellor herself have the floor, by quoting a choice tidbit from the interview by Deutschlandfunk.

Detjen: Have you already answered to criticisms that have been formulated most strongly from Bavaria by Horst Seehofer, who, with reference to your decision to open the border to Hungary on Sept. 4th of this year, said, that this was a mistake which will occupy us for a long time?

Merkel: I think, when you look at the development, then we have seen for a considerable time – first across the Mediterranean, now along the path from Turkey to Greece – that we have an ever-increasing number of refugees. I see what Bavaria has accomplished and think it’s outstanding. On the other hand, I have to say: I don’t believe that fences help – that is futile. We saw that in Hungary, where with much effort a fence was built – the refugees come anyway and seek out other pathways. We will not solve the problem with fences. And therefore I believe that we have to solve it in the way I’ve sketched out: accept the national task, but protect the outer borders much better, to develop a fair distribution throughout Europe and to concern ourselves with the reasons for flight. And that means to also bring diplomatic processes forward, to bring political negotiations forward, and where it is necessary – like here in the Federal Republic of Germany, though supporting the Peshmerga in Iraq – to also help militarily.

You can read or listen to the whole interview (in German) here.

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