It has now been almost exactly two years since German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to let thousands of refugees cross the border from Austria into Germany.
In the weeks following the autumn 2015 announcement, iconic phrases like ‘wir scha¬ en das’ (‘we’ll manage’) and ‘Willkommenskultur’ (‘welcome culture’) were coined and shaped German politics. It was a time of optimism, compassion and hope.
Two years later and two weeks before the German general elections, the wind has changed. While in 2015, Angela Merkel justified the flow of refugees with the risk of a humanitarian crisis, she has fallen very silent on the topic the closer we get to 24 September. The motto seems to be, ‘bury your head in the sand and hope for the best’. And she might have her reasons.
The deal with Turkey, the increased Italian presence in the Mediterranean and in Libya and the fences in south east Europe adding to the natural barrier of the Sahara desert have all shifted the frontier just beyond the German field of perception. But what if this very shaky status quo does not hold?
What if Turkish politics towards the EU - and Germany in particular - radicalise even more and what if Italy decides that it cannot go on alone? Angela Merkel does not have a sustainable plan on how to deal with a flow of refugees.
The first step to a solution must be a European one. The crisis in autumn 2015 was not limited to Germany. It was first and foremost a European deficit. Angela Merkel failed to recognise this and to act accordingly.
Thorough coordination with European partners beforehand could have avoided Germany’s isolation in Europe when it comes to asylum policy. We now face a hardened stance towards a reform of Dublin III and the implementation of an e¬ffective redistribution system throughout the member states.
As just shown with the case against Hungary and Slovakia before the European Court of Justice, the tune has changed. We will have to set up a system of incentives and penalties in order to get all member states to live up to their responsibilities as part of a value-based European Union.
Former European Parliament President, and Socialist candidate in the German elections Martin Schulz has proposed to financially reward EU members welcoming refugees and to cut funds from those who don’t. This is a question of decency.
In recent weeks, Angela Merkel has put the safety of the German people at the heart of her campaign and has shut out the refugee question. What a contrast with her ‘humanitarian’ decision of 2015. The German election campaign will not be kept free of one of the biggest challenges Europe currently faces. Human dignity is a right for everyone.
This must be communicated to the wider public in order to counter the populism of the AfD. On 24 September, the citizens will make their choice in Germany. This will also be a judgment on the migration issue.