The legislation called the Dublin Protocol was designed to stop migrants traveling through Europe to countries with favorable regimes before claiming asylum. If people need asylum, the argument ran, they should be claiming it straight away—and the state in which they do so should remain responsible for processing it.
However, it was on September 13, 2015 that the German government decided not to close the border with Austria and stop hundreds of thousands from entering Germany. Although border controls were in place, asylum-seekers were not turned away, sending a clear signal that Germany remained open for refugees.
According to an article in Der Spiegel:
Chancellor Merkel bided her time before addressing the problem — until she had no other choice. Refugee policy, after all, is a losing issue. Standing firm is viewed as having no mercy, particularly when the next ship goes down in the Mediterranean. Generosity, by contrast, is seen as naiveté, especially when the German tabloid newspaper Bild prints stories on asylum fraud.
The truth is that the system had long since collapsed — at the German border. By May 2015, the flow of refugees had become so large that the federal police were no longer able to take all 10 fingerprints from each refugee. Thousands were entering the country, but the authorities didn’t even know who they were or where they were going.
The second bitter truth is that Germany, with its “false incentives,” as Interior Minister de Maizière put it, had turned itself into a dream destination for the desperate. In Berlin, clothing allowances for six months and spending money for six weeks were being paid to refugees in advance. According to de Maizière, the news of this largesse spread quickly in an era when refugees with smartphones can report their experiences in real-time to friends and relatives back home. They would also learn that in Germany, the asylum process can take longer than a year, and that a “no” doesn’t necessarily mean no in the end, with the government cancelling many more deportation orders than it carries out.
Merkel did react emotionally, but not in the face of suffering … Heidenau made all the difference, the moment when Merkel was confronted by hate.
On August 26, the chancellor paid a visit to a refugee hostel in Heidenau in the eastern state of Saxony. It was the first time during her time in the Chancellery that Merkel had made such a visit and as she returned to her car, a hysterical woman in the crowd shouted: “You miserable cunt, you stupid slut, you traitor.” Merkel had already been called a Nazi in Greek newspapers, but no one had ever insulted her in such vulgar, lowbrow and abysmal terms. “That really hit her,” [a German] official says. “And she wanted to show them.” After that, the official says, her behavior became personal — and irrational.
Merkel would utter her now famous sentence on August 31: “We can do it.” And on September 15, she would say: “If we now start to apologize for showing a friendly face in emergency situations, then this is no longer my country,” but rather the country of the mob. The 14 days between those two statements changed the country.
Now, fast forward to today and Angela Merkel is, politically, in a totally different position – weakened and unpopular with a large majority of the German electorate, many of whom voted for the anti-immigrant AfD. The Guardian (20.11.2017) newspaper reports:
Exploratory talks to form Germany’s next coalition government collapsed shortly before midnight on Sunday when the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) walked out of marathon negotiations.
“The four discussion partners have no common vision for modernisation of the country or common basis of trust,” the FDP leader, Christian Lindner, announced after the four parties involved missed several self-prescribed deadlines to resolve differences on migration and energy policy. “It is better not to govern than to govern badly.”
In a month of talks, Merkel has often cut a passive figure as party representatives found themselves at loggerheads over issues such as the question of how many of the migrants who found their way to Germany in 2015 and 2016 would be allowed to be reunited with their families.
Migration emerged as a contentious political issue in Germany following the refugee crisis, when 1.2 million migrants entered the country in 2015-16. The backlash against Merkel’s decision to keep open Germany’s borders has resulted in a far-right party entering the German parliament for the first time in more than 50 years.
While the debate in Germany over the past few weeks has mainly focused on policy differences between the parties, it is likely to soon shift to the chancellor, and the question of whether or not she still commands sufficient power to hold together a strong government.
According to an article published in The Sun newspaper (August 3, 2017), ‘Leaked phone call transcripts reveal that Donald Trump claimed to Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull that Angela Merkel said she regrets letting migrants into Germany’. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. However, it now seems very likely that Angela Dorothea Merkel may truly be regetting her fateful decision to welcome in 1.2 million migrants.