Category Archives: Merkel

Is the world ready for a strong German leader?

File 20170711 5970 lzijrv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1U.S. President Donald Trump is welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the first day of the G-20 summit.
AP Photo/Jens Meyer

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Michigan State University

What does it take to be elected chancellor of the most populous country in Europe four times in a row?

Germany does not have a system of term limits for heads of state. Candidates for chancellor can seek reelection as long as their party continues to support their candidacy. However, it’s not common. The only postwar German politician to be elected for four consecutive terms was current Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mentor, Helmut Kohl, who passed away last month.

Germany’s general election will take place on Sept. 24. Chancellor Merkel is likely to be elected for a fourth term. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union, is currently polling near 40 percent.

This was not the case just two short years ago. Her decision to open the borders to refugees fleeing along the Balkan Route in 2015 was criticized for being illegal and haphazard. The year before, she had faced criticism for her handling of the Greek financial crisis. Back then, it seemed Merkel would never survive a fourth election.

Then the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. That vote was followed by President Donald Trump’s America First policies and conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. These events have fundamentally changed the global political landscape and created an opportunity for Merkel’s style of leadership to prevail.

Journalists and commentators frequently assert that Merkel has become the leader of the free world.

Despite negative images of riots in Hamburg during the recent G-20 summit, the German magazine Der Spiegel reports that Merkel’s campaign hardly took a hit. Instead, the mayor of Hamburg is being criticized.

How is Merkel so politically invincible? As a professor of German studies, I have blogged and commented on Merkel’s political appearances since 2015. One of her political strengths is her understated reaction to international conflicts. The other is her “party-manager” style of governance at home.

Deliberate approach to conflict

The G-20 summit was an important show of Merkel’s global leadership. Against this backdrop, Merkel’s slow and steady approach to governing stands in sharp contrast to the charisma of recently elected President Emmanuel Macron in France, the autocratic tendencies of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and the impulsivity of President Trump.

Before the G-20, Merkel stated in an interview that she acknowledged the vacuum of power left by Trump’s policies. Merkel said, “Apparently the American administration no longer wants to be the peacekeeping power per se for all regions of the world.” She acknowledged that this might be good or bad, depending on the context.

Several weeks before the G-20 Summit, Merkel traveled to South and Central America to shore up trade relations. She stopped in Mexico and pledged her support to President Enrique Peña Nieto in upcoming talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement. After that, she traveled to Argentina, where journalists asked her whether this international tour signaled that she was preparing to assume the mantle of the leader of the free world. Merkel replied diplomatically, saying that “no one alone in this world, no single person and no country alone can solve the problems [we have].”

This rhetoric is similar to previous appearances in which she has emphasized European unity and the need for international partnerships.

Merkel the party manager

Back home in Germany, Merkel’s leadership style is described as that of a “party manager.” Merkel attempts to keep the many factions of her party in her corner at any one given time. This strategy succeeds because the Christian Democratic Union is a “catch-all” party. A catch-all party tries to maintain diverse ideological viewpoints so that it can capture the support of a broad swath of the electorate.

In the two-party American system, both the Democratic and Republican parties have functioned as catch-all parties. In the multi-party German system, it is possible to have a political party gain representation in Parliament even with a focused ideology, like the Green Party’s focus on sustainability and social justice.

Merkel’s identity facilitates a party-manager approach because she holds a variety of minority identities. Merkel is female, Protestant in a previously predominantly Catholic party and grew up in the former East Germany.

As a party manager, Merkel maintains a strategy of keeping all options open as long as possible. In German, her governance style has earned its own verb. “To merkel” is to deliberate, evaluate a course of action and eventually choose a suitable option at the last possible moment.

This tactic drives her opponents crazy, and Germany’s dominance in the European economy and now global politics has strained the country’s relationship with some European partners.

The ConversationMerkel may not like the title “leader of the free world.” She may also be merkeling, or waiting until the last possible moment to claim it. But with an election campaign that seems assured of success, a variety of international partners pledging their support and an acknowledgment by more than just Merkel after the G-20 that President Trump’s policies leave a diplomatic vacuum, all signs point to a very powerful position for the German chancellor after Sept. 24.

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Assistant Professor of German and Global Studies, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How the Berlin Christmas market terror attack affects Chancellor Merkel and Europe

Image 20170103 18679 1fols96.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Italian police at a press conference after Berlin attacker was killed in Italy.
AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Michigan State University

Germany is recovering from one of the most deadly terrorist attacks since the 1980 bombing at Munich’s Oktoberfest.

On Dec. 19, 12 people were killed when Anis Amri, a Tunisian citizen who had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, killed a Polish truck driver and then drove his truck into a Christmas market in Berlin. Three days later, Italian police discovered Amri during a routine police search. When he was asked for identification he opened fire, and was killed by police.

In an age where radical Islamic terrorism is seen as a global threat, every attack can be used to make political arguments. As an American scholar of German studies with a focus on the political attention given to Muslim populations, I believe that the impact of the attack in Berlin will be felt in two political arenas. One is domestic: How will this most recent act of terror from a criminal asylum-seeker affect Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reelection campaign? The other is international: In the context of a divided Europe, how will Merkel’s European partners react?

Merkel’s open border policy

Merkel’s decision to open the borders in September 2015 to refugees trying to reach Germany has been both praised as a humanitarian gesture and widely criticized, even within her own party. Many on the right see refugee resettlement as a threat to German identity and security.

In the week after the Berlin attack, however, the Frankfurt General Newspaper published the results of a voter survey conducted by the Forsa Institute, a prominent polling firm. A majority of the Germans polled (68 percent) saw no relationship between Merkel’s refugee politics and the attack in Berlin. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed did believe, however, that terrorism and security would play a large role in this year’s upcoming federal elections, as Merkel is seeking a fourth term.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party lost no time pointing fingers at Merkel just minutes after the attack. Markus Pretzell, a representative of the group in the European Parliament, tweeted that the victims killed were “Merkel’s dead!”

Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union in the province of Bavaria, struck a more tactful tone. Seehofer declared that “we owe it to the victims, to those affected and to the entire population to rethink and adjust our entire immigration and security policy.” Seehofer was quickly reprimanded for using a national tragedy to politicize Merkel’s decision in an op-ed from Peter Dausend in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

What effect will this event have on German politics? Various commentators suggest that most Germans are resistant to political panic. An article from Der Spiegel, published two days after the attack and widely circulated on social media, compared German, French and American responses to terrorist attacks. Americans, the authors argued, rebel against terror. The French remind themselves of their republicanism by singing the Marseillaise especially loudly. Berliners? They react as they always do: by showing themselves to be “completely unfazed.”

Merkel shines under pressure

German Chancellor Angela Merkel after her annual New Year’s speech.
AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool

The same poll asked Germans if a debate about security would serve Merkel well in the coming elections. Only 17 percent said yes. And yet, it is in times of insecurity and uncertainty that Merkel appears most poised and most committed to both liberal democracy and a united Europe.

After the perpetrator of the Christmas attacks was caught, Merkel gave a five-minute press conference during which she thanked the Italian police and criminal justice system. She wished a speedy recovery to the Italian police officer who was shot by the terrorist. Finally, she also thanked all of the international partners who continue to work together and who helped bring the attacker to justice.

“Terrorism challenges all of us,” Merkel said. She added, “We feel the global solidarity of our friends across the world and you should know how deeply we also mourn your victims.” She reassured Italians and Poles that Germans mourn the life of the Italian woman killed in the attacks, as well as the life of the Polish truck driver. These statements were carefully crafted to position Germany as part of the European Union and as both dependent on and confident in European cooperation.

Not everyone shares Merkel’s vision of a united Europe. Challenges to the EU come from parties and politicians to Merkel’s right who position themselves against the European Union, such as the Alternative for Germany party. European politicians can also be quick to criticize the Schengen Agreement, which permits free movement across internal European borders, as insecure.

Various political camps in France have criticized Merkel’s decision to open the borders in light of the most recent attack. French Republican candidate for president Francois Fillon, for instance, reproached Merkel for having underestimated the threat of radical Islamists. This reproach – echoed by far-right leaders in France’s National Front – may be a way of deflecting embarrassment that Amri traveled through France without detection on his way to Italy.

Like most heads of state, Merkel gave a short televised New Year’s address on Dec. 31. She declared Islamic terrorism to be the most difficult test of contemporary society. But she also criticized the efforts of the far right across Europe to undermine liberal democracy. Questioning achievements like a united Europe or parliamentary democracy, as the far right does, creates “distorted images,” she said.

The ConversationShe called on Germans to strengthen democracy, admonishing those who believe that a “prosperous future” could ever be found in going it alone as a nation: “Where…Europe is challenged as a whole, Europe must also find answers as a whole – irrespective of how tedious and tough it is.”

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Assistant Professor of German and Global Studies, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Will Trump victory make Angela Merkel leader of Free World?”

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Michigan State University

After the election of Donald Trump, commentators have argued that German Chancellor Angela Merkel may become the leader of the free world, a role typically played by the president of the United States.

After 11 years as chancellor and as the leader of the largest economy in Europe, Merkel is certainly one of the most experienced heads of state in office. On Nov. 20, after a long wait, Merkel finally announced that she would seek a fourth term in the federal elections next fall.

In the upcoming campaign, Merkel is in a difficult position. She must both live up to her reputation as a defender of liberal democracy, and also contain the right-wing populist streaks in the Alternative for Germany party in order to win reelection.

As an American scholar of German studies, I have blogged about how Merkel’s public appearances function as political theater. The chancellor changes her message depending on her audience. At home, she is much more likely to appear conservative.

But in anticipation of Trump taking office in 2017, Merkel is publicly setting clear boundaries. Trump not only criticized her open-doors refugee policy, but also may represent a threat to close international collaboration between Germany and the United States.

In between Trump and the German far right

Merkel is most likely to present herself as a defender of liberal values when appearing on the international stage. On Nov. 9, Merkel congratulated Trump on his new office at a press conference. In contrast to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s celebratory statements or Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s cautious well wishes, Merkel issued a warning: If Trump cannot respect “democracy, freedom, respect for the law and for human dignity independent of background, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political beliefs,” Merkel implied that Germany will need to reevaluate the terms of its partnership with the United States.

This warning to Trump has been praised by some in the American press for its defense of liberal, democratic values.

Many Germans see Trump’s racist and xenophobic comments as statements that would be illegal under current German law. His rhetoric echoes not only the racism and anti-Semitism of the Holocaust, but also shares similarities with the authoritarian doublespeak of East German communist politics.

However, in domestic appearances, Merkel is at times illiberal, choosing to accent her conservativism to pander to the xenophobic right wing. On Nov. 6, Merkel gave an acceptance speech after receiving the nomination of her party. The speech garnered widespread attention in the U.S., mostly for the moment when Merkel stated support for banning burqas – a move designed to attract voters on the right.

Merkel’s campaign begins

As the German public was anxiously awaiting Merkel’s decision to run for office, German journalists Matthias Geis, Tina Hildebrandt and Bernd Ulrich published a full-page article in the German newspaper Die Zeit about Merkel titled “Leader of the free world? Not that, too!”

In this article, they explain the difficulties facing Merkel’s reelection campaign. Merkel, they say, has never faced more pressure to lead. Europe isn’t pulling its weight. She doesn’t have unified support from her party. Finally, she doesn’t have the same polling numbers she used to. Despite these obstacles, they write:

“Merkel can sense that the arguments she could bring against her candidacy get weaker and weaker as the global situation becomes more and more dramatic.”

Merkel couches her decision to seek reelection in similar terms. When she announced her candidacy, Merkel said she needed to run because – after the U.S. election and in relationship to Russia – the world needed to be “sorted out.” Merkel repeated this phrase in her nomination speech:

“We are dealing with a world – especially after the American election – which first needs to be sorted out, especially with respect to things like NATO and the relationship to Russia. This poses the question: What is actually to be done?”

By standing for reelection, Merkel answered her own question. Merkel sees herself as the person to “sort out” the new world order. In this narrative, the first thing to do is support her campaign. The second thing, visible in her comments about refugees and burqa bans, is to pander to voters who might abandon her party to vote for the right-wing Alternative for Germany party.

The Alternative for Germany party, which criticizes Merkel’s every move, later joked on social media that the CDU (Merkel’s party) had stolen their campaign platform.

The ConversationThe Alternative for Germany party was founded in 2013 and is a xenophobic, nationalist, right-wing party critical of the European Union. The AfD has been successful in gaining representation in local German elections. They will likely enter the national German parliament in the fall of 2017.

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Assistant Professor of German and Global Studies, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Christmastime

As a slow warm-up to getting this blog up to speed this fall, here’s a short video to test the absurdity of the climate we find ourselves living in. Chancellor Merkel’s utterances at this party meeting – which seem to be a clear indication that the CDU is feeling itself pushed to the right – argues that party members need to remind themselves of the “Christian” in “Christian Democratic Party” by singing Christmas carols.

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Merkel’s Speech at the CDU Party Meeting

On December 14th, Angela Merkel gave an hour-long speech to members of her party the CDU. She’s been having quite a run, especially after being named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, and the speech has been widely covered by English-language media.

The Washington Post published a piece with the title “Multiculturalism is a sham, says Merkel” on December 14th. There’s not much more to that piece than its title, with one reference to her 2010 speech where she declared that “Multiculturalism has failed.” This article by the Guardian is evidence of much more responsible reporting, including several direct quotations on many issues from Merkel’s almost 80 minute speech. The Guardian also includes the statement on multiculturalism and links it to Merkel’s 2010 speech, but tempers this statement with criticisms of aid organizations as well as Merkel’s attempt to position German politics on the landscape of European integration.

What is missing from this English-language reporting is an understanding of what multiculturalism means in a German context.

Germany has never had a state-sponsored program of multicultural rights. Canada is a much better model of multicultural policy. Germans thus mean something different when they speak of multiculturalism – it’s a mix of having a diverse population, accompanied by the notion that civic participation and assimilation will happen without policies that provide access to populations of color and without having to discuss racism or equal opportunity. Multiculturalism doesn’t mean multiculturalism at all in this idiom: it is German shorthand for a policy of neglect. True multiculturalism seeks to strike a balance between group and individual rights in a way that is legally protected and does not infringe too much on human rights (although the criticisms are prevalent). German Multikulti is as much of a misnomer as using the English word “handy” to describe a cell phone.

Merkel’s speech – as is to be expected – is a political utterance. Because of its length, it also has a political logic all its own.

The speech begins with a list of events, month by month, that affected Europe. Merkel seems to be doing this intentionally: she emphasizes the role of Germany in Europe rather than allowing the nationalism of the CSU to taint her own speech. The banner raised behind her on the stage reads “For Germany and Europe,” the bright orange letters standing out against the blue banner as a political slogan.

The list is overwhelming. January: Charlie Hebdo. February: Minsk negotiations for peace in Ukraine. March: the German Wings crash. April: a special meeting of European leaders in the face of hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean. June and July: Greek negotiations, a test of strength for Europe that has not yet been passed. June: G7 summit about climate change and the recognition of climate refugees. August: Prognosis of asylum seekers for this year: 800,000. Sept. 4-5: Thousands of refugees were stranded in Budapest, and Germany and Austria’s decided to allow them free entry. Merkel calls this decision “a humanitarian imperative.”  October 4: 25 years of German Reunification. November 13: the attacks in Paris. November 15: Cancellation of the German soccer match in Hannover.

By twenty minutes in, Merkel begins her historical rallying cry. Germany survived the Cold War and rebuilt itself out of rubble after the Holocaust. It is a country which doesn’t hedge its bets. Citing several famous historical utterances, Merkel insists that Germany chose freedom, not *some* freedom. (Wir wählen die Freiheit, nicht *etwa* Freiheit.) The economic miracle which followed World War II brought affluence for everyone, not affluence for almost everyone (Wohlstand für alle, nicht Wohlstand für *fast* alle).

This historical precedent also applies to the refugee crisis. After thanking the volunteers who are serving across the country to assist the processing of refugees, Merkel does the exact opposite of what her speech has set us up to expect. She hedges her bets. Germany can do it, but only if they reduce the number of refugees. According to Merkel, this is in no way contradictory and is in everyone’s best interest: Germany can only integrate so many refugees; Europe can only house so many refugees, and as for the refugees – well, no one leaves their homeland lightly, she says.

Germany can do it, but only with European help and partners like Greece and Turkey securing their borders. Refugees – at least some of them – have to be deported so that it becomes clear that legal protection is a status and laws have consequences.

And all of this takes time. Merkel undergoes a thought experiment about halfway through the speech. She asks her audience to imagine Germany in 2025. Later she will talk about imagining Germany 25 years from now. That repetition of 25, even though mathematically inconsistent, is important. 2015 is the 25th anniversary year of German reunification. It’s a symbolic gesture towards the unforeseeable changes Germany has already undergone since the Fall of the Iron Curtain, and an acknowledgement that just as many changes await them in the coming 25 years.

She uses this thought experiment to point out how young the refugee problem is. In ten years, she posits, Germans will look back on the actors of today and judge them for their lack of imagination. It’s only been four months! How impatient are we if we later look back and realize that we didn’t even allow ourselves the necessary time to arrive at a solution to a massive problem.

Some of her sustainable solutions to the refugee problem have ominous overtones: the establishment of a central database at all levels of civil society for refugees, as well as a two-year waiting period for family togetherness if subjects do not receive immediate refugee status. Merkel lauds Turkey, despite recent claims of humanitarian abuses by Amnesty International, as a primary partner in solving this global problem.  Rich countries are to be criticized for allowing aid organizations like UNHCR and the World Food Program to run out of funding, she says.

The part to her speech which is being picked up in these English language articles is actually a very small portion placed near the end. During this section, Merkel ponders the effects of cultural contact. After such an influx, what will remain of the Germany we know?

After stating her opposition to multiculturalism, she states: “The opposite of that [Multikulti] is integration. Integration that demands the openness to those who come to us, but as well as the readiness of those who come to us to adhere to our values and traditions. […] We will learn from our mistakes. […] Countries always profit from successful immigration, but that requires integration.”

She portrays the CDU as a people’s party; a party that creates bridges; a party that is neither a worker’s party nor a party of the elite, but which can cross borders and recognize individual dignity. The positioning is strategic – and pits the CDU against the SPD (traditionally blue-collar) and die Linke (a socialist party). More importantly, Merkel comes full circle and portrays the CDU as the party which developed the European vision and led directly to the integration of European countries into the EU.

This is, most likely, a simplification – but it is a strategic one.

English-language coverage of this speech misrepresents Merkel’s positioning by focusing on one line with a certain cultural connotation in Germany. Merkel agitates in this speech primarily for the German position within Europe – which, of course, requires an articulation of national identity and preservation of purportedly German values. But she is primarily pushing back against the anti-European sentiments of PEGIDA and the AfD party; she is cajoling her European partners to participate in solving the refugee problem together; and she is no more racist than any other central right party (and probably only moderately racist when compared to the rhetoric coming from the CSU, the AfD and PEGIDA). (It’s also ridiculous that I find myself in a position where I am quantifying levels of racism.) But it’s important to see the shades of intensity when comparing Merkel to some of the more populist elements of her party.

A better title? “Merkel insists on German Role in European Union and Stakes CDU’s Distance from German Far-Right.” But that’s not so catchy, is it?

I guess that’s why I’m not writing for the Washington Post. 

Feminist Refugee Politics – Points of Entry

What constitutes a feminist refugee politics?

This question is not new. But there are some particularities about the current crisis which demand that discussions of gender take a larger part in conversations than it has so far. Gender matters – it always matters. There are a couple of tropes that have been circulating which are specifically about gendered trends. One, which I have blogged about for the feministische studien, reflects the relationship between Kanzlerin Merkel and the CDU. To set up a binary: Merkel = female. The CDU (if we look at the photoshopped image from Die Welt below) = male.  (The caption reads: #MoreWomen Campaign. Without men Angela Merkel stands almost alone up there.)

The ideological conflict between moderate CDU members and the far-right CSU is influenced in some way by this discrepancy in proportional representation between female head of state and male party members. There are masculine expectations for hard power which Merkel supposedly inadequately exercises, especially in the eyes of her sister party. And now to deconstruct said binary: It is more likely for the press or party members to discredit Merkel as a “monarch” or “Mama Merkel” than to acknowledge that Merkel’s experiences growing up under dictatorship in the GDR (East Germany) are historically legitimate reasons for reacting to this kind of humanitarian crisis with open arms. Merkel, in a beautiful moment of living standpoint theory, insists that she knows what it is like to live behind a closed border and that she is very well aware of the violence a sealed border requires. Thus her emphasis on sentences like “Fences don’t help.

Another trope that has been given a lot of airtime is assertion that the refugees/forced migrants are 70% (or more) male. Given recent discrepancies brought to light by Nando Sigona on The Conversation, in an article which recounts his Twitter communications with Frontex that reveal that a large number of migrants might be counted twice, it seems increasingly urgent to use rigor in the ways that we quantify. While the majority may be young men, the racist associations of criminality, rape, assault and possible infiltration by religious terrorists rest on gendered fears of masculinity. The anonymous blog called The Syrian Boy has an interesting collection of images (the sources are unclear) which aim to disrupt that generalization.

According to this article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is how the gender totals break down across age groups:

  • 70% of asylum-seekers who were in the EU in 2014 were male
  • the gender split amongst children was nearly equal
  • 54% of the refugees are between the ages of 14-34 years; 75% of this group are men
  • refugees above 65 years of age were more likely to be women

They list their source as raw data from eurostat.

According to statistics from the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees in Germany cited in the SZ, in 2014:

  • 2/3 of all asylum applications were from men
  • 28% of all applications were submitted for children under 16 (the largest group; slightly more boys than girls
  • among 16-34 year olds, the proportion was 70-77% men

The German feminist blog PinkStinks.de has published a recent post frustrated with the way these numbers are being interpreted as representing a threat to (White German) women. As they write on PinkStinks:

And while they [the editors of the magazine EMMA] raise important demands in order to protect women, they also swear on the image of a constantly assaultive Muslim man. “Our equality is in danger, too, when hundreds of thousands of mostly young men pour into our country.”

These political moves are unacceptable, PinkStinks writes:

The line was crossed a long time ago. And not just at the point where demands for equality and more protection for women are used in the service of nationalistic interests, but also at the point where people who are fleeing are being instrumentalized in order to push through their own images of equality and more protection for women.

It is nothing new to cover up racism with assertions of needing to protect women. Laura Bush was used effectively by her husband’s presidency to argue for protections for women under the Taliban and to justify war after 9/11. Blue burkas pervaded the national imagery alongside the image of vicious terrorists. These are tropes with which the Right is all too familiar – not just in Germany, the EU or in the United States. Canada just had a presidential campaign in which the niqab was a potent political symbol. The HuffPost has an entire page devoted to niqab articles. Düsseldorf just banned the piece of clothing for elementary school mothers.

While women’s equality is being evoked by (male?) politicians in the service of nationalism, what do we make of this info graphic from a study conducted by the Humbolt University in Berlin about volunteers in serving this population? This tweet from the WDR (Westdeutsche Rundfunk) describes the exact opposite proportions of volunteers compared to refugees: 70% are female; 30% male. (The tweet comment reads: There’s room for improvement, boys!)

 

The very acts of fleeing and helping are gendered; for forced migrants, the physical obstacles they encounter are great. It seems, however, as if the obstacles impeding men from assisting these people in effective ways are just as great within European society, if not as evident as the physical obstacles along the flight path.

For right now, this is simply about gathering evidence that shows some of the points at which gender is functioning as political capital in the European crisis. Part II (to be posted later) will explore how these tropes and images can inform feminist refugee politics.

Angela Merkel appears on Anne Will

On October 7th, 34 (male) CDU politicians issued a public letter criticizing Angela Merkel for her refugee politics. This letter lists suggestions for handling the refugee crisis as well as articulates frustration with the Chancellor as a representative of their party who no longer seems to adhere to the political mission of the CDU nor to European laws such as the Dublin Agreement.  That only male CDU politicians signed this letter deserves a later post to itself.

On the same day, Chancellor Merkel appeared as a guest on the political talk show Anne Will. Sitting on beige, leather, Bauhaus-style chairs in front of a live studio audience, Merkel spoke with Anne Will about the criticism from her own party and Merkel’s “plan” for dealing with the refugee crisis.  Repeating over and over again, “We can do it,” Merkel committed to her approach to refugee policy.

Several reviews of the television broadcast, such as this one from Die Zeit, state that Merkel’s appearance was received positively by politicians. Sabine Rau, an ARD journalist, commented after the broadcast that this appearance was part of a broader offensive strategy to maintain control amid dissent, as the tagesschau reports.

Maintaining control was clearly the Chancellor’s focus during the broadcast: often talking over Frau Will and refusing to buckle under pressure, Merkel seemed confident about both her political decisions and her position as chancellor. Precisely this confidence has irritated many over the past several months, especially after Merkel proclaimed the German borders open to Syrian refugees on September 4th of this year. With that step, the Dublin Agreement, which states that refugees are supposed to be processed in the country within Europe where they first set foot, was essentially null and void. Other countries, like Greece and Hungary, who simply sent refugees who wanted to leave towards Germany, are, however, also at fault for facilitating the transfer of refugees across European borders and the breakdown of Schengen and Dublin – that does not fall solely to the Chancellor.

What I find fascinating about these two media events: one, the frustrated letter from CDU politicians, and two, the broadcast interview on Anne Will, is the lack of ideological difference between most of them. Merkel, for instance, emphasized in conversation many of the suggestions made by the CDU in their letter: strengthening Europe’s outer borders; providing Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Libanon with support for caring for refugees; speeding up refugee processing times. The ideological conflict seems to hinge on one point: can any action actually stop the flow of refugees into Germany?

The CDU/CSU wants to believe that some show of strength – a border fence or control, for instance – could help. Or even if the Chancellor would stop taking selfies with refugees. (As Merkel pointed out, the promise of a selfie with the German Chancellor is not what drives people to flee). But Merkel is much more honest when she says that this is impossible. With or without a policy of open German borders, people see Germany as a desirable destination. Irregular migration – across what the Chancellor acknowledges are porous inner-European borders – will persist with or without fences or border patrols. When asked by Anne Will if Germany should stop accepting refugees, the Chancellor replied: “How is that supposed to work? You can’t close the border. There is no stop to admission (Aufnahmestopp).

The last question of the Will broadcast is actually the most telling: Frau Will asked the Chancellor if the Germany we know today will persist in the face of such massive, sudden immigration. Chancellor Merkel was insistent: the values of Germany (values being a favorite phrase of right-wing politics across the globe) such as free speech, the social market economy, and freedom of religion will not change. She’s sure of it.

The political right, however, isn’t so sure Germany will persist – neither the Germany they know nor the Chancellor who has represented them for ten years. Oh, Ye of little faith.

 

Merkel

I don’t usually post something here twice in one day, but 34 CDU politicians have issued a letter to Merkel against the “policy of open borders.” If you speak German, take a look here. Commentary to follow.

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.