How the refugee crisis created two myths of Angela Merkel

When Angela Merkel steps down as chancellor after Germany’s elections later this month, the tributes will centre on her role as the figurehead of western liberalism; an island of stability, caution and openness in an era marked by turbulence and far-right reaction. She will be remembered “for serious work, stable leadership and having a gift for political compromise”, wrote Ishaan Tharoor in the Washington Post last week. When she faced off against Donald Trump after his inauguration in 2017, some newspapers dubbed her the new “leader of the free world”.

Fundamental to this image is the intervention she made in late summer 2015, at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis. “Wir schaffen das” – we’ll manage this – was Merkel’s public statement as thousands of people, mainly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, were making their way through Turkey, Greece and the Balkans to western Europe. By declaring Germany – and, by extension, Europe – open to refugees, she was making a bold, pragmatic statement of intent.

Yet two contradictory myths have grown up around the “wir schaffen das” moment, both of which overstate the significance of her intervention and mischaracterise its effects. The populist right blames Merkel for prompting one of the largest mass migrations in the continent’s recent history, a “catastrophic mistake”, as Trump later put it, that would undermine Europe’s security and identity through an overwhelming foreign intrusion.

Liberals, meanwhile, treat it as a triumph. Merkel’s stance, in this telling, held true to the values that supposedly underpin the European project – the EU, after all, is the only geopolitical bloc to have been awarded the Nobel peace prize – and showed that a crisis could be met with compassion.

In truth, Merkel’s contribution to Europe’s politics of immigration went much further than “wir schaffen das”, and her legacy is far more mixed. As an investigation by Die Zeit has since shown, “wir schaffen das” did not, for the most part, encourage migration: it acknowledged a reality that already existed.

The refugee crisis had already been under way for several months by the summer of 2015, with people motivated to travel more by what was pushing them from their homes than the reception they expected in Europe. Syrians in 2015, for instance, were facing a worsening conflict, decreasing food rations from aid agencies, and employment bans in Lebanon and Turkey, where most Syrian refugees have settled. When Germany announced in early September 2015, a few days after Merkel’s speech, that it would keep its borders open to refugees who were heading westwards from the Keleti railway station in Budapest, people had been travelling for months already.

What’s more, Europe’s “crisis” – the chaotic and deadly arrival of people not just through Greece but across the central Mediterranean from Africa – was in large part a product of the continent’s own border policies, which had closed off safe routes to asylum and funnelled people into dangerous bottlenecks. Germany under Merkel, as the EU’s most powerful member, played a key role in creating the problem. It helped maintain a system in which border security was given higher priority than refugee reception – between 2007 and 2013, according to Amnesty International, the EU spent €2bn on the former, and only €700m on the latter. Likewise, Merkel’s insistence on punitive austerity as the solution to Europe’s earlier economic crisis fatally weakened the capacity of frontline states such as Greece to respond to greater numbers of refugees at a crucial moment.

Even the moment of openness that “wir schaffen das” expressed was short-lived, with Germany soon working to rebuild and strengthen Fortress Europe. By mid-September 2015, Germany had introduced temporary controls on its border with Austria, the beginning of a process that would eventually see migration routes through south-eastern Europe closed off. A few months later, Merkel was a leading proponent of the 2016 deal that effectively trapped many refugees in Turkey, while Germany has done nothing to challenge the EU’s authoritarian turn that has made search and rescue in the Mediterranean almost impossible. Merkel may have been a bulwark against far-right domination of European politics, but the price was to absorb some of the far-right’s agenda on border control.

Related: Europe’s reputation as a cosmopolitan haven has been exposed as a mirage | Hans Kundnani

Yet while Merkel did not radically alter the European course of the crisis, she shifted the tone of debate at a crucial moment. Fleeting as it was, this mattered. Its effects can be seen in the way German society accommodated the 1.7 million people who claimed asylum there between 2015 and 2019. Despite the dire predictions from the right, this has been an undoubted success: as the Guardian’s own reporting has shown, more than half of those who arrived are in work and pay taxes, while more than 80% of refugee children say they feel as if they belong in Germany and are welcome. The xenophobic backlash, playing on fears of crime or terrorism, is real, but it is something that can be – and is being – challenged.

Britain’s government makes an instructive comparison: even as it proclaims its generosity towards a small fraction of the people currently trying to flee Afghanistan (the official scheme promises to resettle 20,000 people over five years), this is drowned out by its authoritarian posturing. The latest of these, a promise to “turn around” migrant boats in the Channel, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, risks deadly consequences if it ever comes to pass. The response to recent Afghan arrivals – sustained by a huge volunteer effort – itself reveals the shoddiness of Britain’s asylum system: why is it being left to volunteers and charities to provide essentials such as clothes?

Ultimately, Merkel’s legacy tells us less about one politician’s actions than about what can be done if a society has the will to help people in need. That is a collective effort. But the myths and symbols politicians trade in have the capacity to enable such efforts, or to destroy them. In Britain, it often feels like the debate on asylum is dominated by a competition to see who can sound the toughest: between politicians who enthusiastically push a hard-right agenda, and those who purport to be liberals but take a tough stance because they think it’s what the public wants.

This goes beyond the peculiar cruelties of our current government: it is the product of years of xenophobia encouraged by the rightwing press, and will take a huge effort to unpick. But Merkel should remind us, however inconsistent her actions might have been in reality, that there is always an alternative.

  • Daniel Trilling is the author of Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe and Bloody Nasty People: the Rise of Britain’s Far Right

Internet Explorer Channel Network
News Related

OTHER NEWS

Paris Hilton tells fans 'legislation is hot' during Capitol Hill visit

© Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images Paris Hilton. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images Paris Hilton had a simple message for fans greeting her on Thursday: “Legislation ... Read more »

Jennifer Garner's Fans Are Seriously Concerned After Watching Her Pumpkin Picking Video

Jennifer Garner keeps it real on Instagram. The 49-year-old actress and mother of three skips the staged selfies and instead posts down-to-earth videos baking with her mom and learning to ... Read more »

The Rangers snapshot that proves Kemar Roofe was onside as big VAR call explained

Rangers looked to have received a bit of good fortune as Kemar Roofe tapped the ball into the net. Alfredo Morelos was denied against Brondby in the Europa League, before ... Read more »

Smiles all round as gentle alpacas pop in on elderly care home residents

Residents at a care home in Glasgow had their spirits lifted by some unusual visitors – alpacas. © PA Wire Alpacas care home visit Sid, Eric and Chester took a ... Read more »

Ben Simmons Is Reportedly Not ‘Mentally Ready' To Play

The Ben Simmons saga in Philadelphia took another strange turn today. © Provided by The Spun A closeup of Ben Simmons. Simmons, who was suspended for the team’s season opener ... Read more »

Adrian Wojnarowski Has Thursday Update On Ben Simmons

After declining to participate in a drill during practice on Tuesday, Ben Simmons was suspended for the Philadelphia 76ers‘ opener, a 117-97 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. The team ... Read more »

Ben Simmons saga reaches “vague back issue” stage

The Ben Simmons Situation in Philadelphia has felt untenable since the aftermath of Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks that saw Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid dragging his play. © ... Read more »

Lacklustre Tottenham defeated by Vitesse as Nuno Espirito Santo's selection gamble backfires

Tottenham’s decision to leave their big guns at home saw them lose 1-0 to Vitesse Arnhem in Group G of Europa Conference League. © AP Maximilian Wittek’s goal sank Tottenham ... Read more »

Liverpool injury update and possible return dates as two stars face Man Utd disappointment

Liverpool have some good injury news to report but they are yet to have a full clean bill of health ahead of the weekend. The Reds face Manchester United this ... Read more »

Ben Simmons out indefinitely, not ‘mentally ready to play'

Philadelphia 76ers star guard Ben Simmons will not be on the court when his team opens its home slate Friday against the Brooklyn Nets. © Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports Philadelphia ... Read more »

Your Evening Longread: Meet the voices behind the Squid Game VIPs

© IMDB EVERY WEEK, WE bring you a round-up of the best longreads of the past seven days in Sitdown Sunday. And now, every weeknight, we bring you an evening ... Read more »

‘No vaccine required': Spokane sheriff sparks outcry by offering jobs to cops who refuse to get jab

© Twitter Spokane Sheriff’s Department has launched a recruitment drive and highlighted officers do not require a vaccine – Twitter A sheriff in rural Washington has triggered outcry by offering ... Read more »

NBA World Reacts To Thursday's Ben Simmons News

It seems like a new report involving Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons surfaces every day. On Thursday, ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowksi had a telling update on the All-Star point guard’s ... Read more »

‘School-to-prison pipeline': youth justice services failing black boys

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo The government has been urged to act over the “school to prison pipeline” after a report found black and mixed heritage ... Read more »

Anthony Edwards hilariously explains why he talked trash to opposing coach

Anthony Edwards was the No. 1 overall pick in 2020, and he is quickly becoming No. 1 overall in our hearts as well. © Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports The Minnesota ... Read more »

Look: LaMelo Ball's Postgame Outfit Went Viral Last Night

LaMelo Ball’s postgame outfit outshined – for better or for worse – his impressive season-opening performance on Wednesday night. © Provided by The Spun LaMelo Ball makes his NBA debut ... Read more »

Timid Tottenham beaten at Vitesse

Tottenham’s decision to leave their big guns at home saw them lose 1-0 to Vitesse Arnhem in Group G of Europa Conference League. Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Cristian Romero and ... Read more »

Huge crowds march in Sudan in support of civilian rule

Throngs of Sudanese protesters took to the streets on Thursday to voice their support for civilian rule within the country’s power-sharing government. © ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images Sudanese demonstrators ... Read more »

At least four weeks: BBC reporter confirms 'another' Leeds injury blow for 'magnificent' leader

‘Another’ blow for Leeds United as defender Robin Koch will be out for a month yet, BBC’s Adam Pope has confirmed from Marcelo Bielsa’s press conference. © Provided by Transfer ... Read more »

Why can't congressional Democrats deliver more on their promises? It's complicated.

In January, when President Joe Biden took office and Democrats secured both chambers of Congress, millions of Americans had high hopes that the laundry list of causes touted on the ... Read more »

Red-hot Awoniyi scores in Union Berlin's Europa Conference League defeat against Feyenoord

Taiwo Awoniyi scored a goal as Union Berlin suffered a 3-1 defeat to Feyenoord in a Europa Conference League fixture on Thursday. Awoniyi continued from where he stopped on Saturday when ... Read more »

Ferrari-Upgrade bringt Zehntel - Restprogramm gegen McLaren

© ams McLaren – Formel 1 – GP USA – Austin – Donnerstag – 21.10.2021 Die Formel-1-Saison biegt auf die Zielgerade ein. Es finden noch sechs Rennen statt. Nicht nur ... Read more »

Dr. Phil sued by woman who claims she was sexually assaulted at treatment facility he suggested

A woman who appeared on “Dr. Phil” as a teenager in 2019 has sued the daytime show host and claimed that she was sexually assaulted at a Utah treatment center ... Read more »

As EU moves on carbon pricing, US must work with WTO to avert trade war

The European Union (EU) appears ready to move ahead with plans for a carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM). It might work, but then again, it might lead to a trade ... Read more »

Escaped zebras evade capture outside US capital

For nearly two months, a pair of zebras have been on the run near the US capital Washington, successfully evading attempts to catch them — and now their owner has ... Read more »

'League is shaking', 'At last' - Many Everton fans buzz as 'good news' confirmed

Many Everton fans have been left buzzing as some news emerged involving Richarlison. © Provided by Transfer Tavern Richarlison The Goodison Park faithful tweeted a few images of the former ... Read more »

Exchange Flags transformed into Italian setting for Mo Salah Pepsi advert

Filming on a new advert featuring Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah moved to Exchange Flags in the city centre. The square was transformed into an Italian setting complete with scooters and a ... Read more »

Journo drops exciting claim on Liverpool's Salah involving Messi, Zlatan & Ronaldo

Emmet Gates has suggested Liverpool star Mohamed Salah could go on playing at the highest level into his mid-30s.  © GiveMeSport Liverpool star Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring versus Watford ... Read more »

'Best player in the world', 'Unreal' - Many Rangers fans stunned by 'tremendous' ace vs Brondby

Some Rangers fans have been left amazed by the first-half performance of Joe Aribo against Brondby, as Steven Gerrard’s side work to get back on track in the Europa League. ... Read more »

Jake Gyllenhaal is a bank robber on the run in the intense new trailer for Michael Bay's 'Ambulance'

© Universal Jake Gyllenhaal in “Ambulance.” Universal Jake Gyllenhaal plays the leader of a bank heist gone wrong. He and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II find themselves on the run in an ... Read more »

How to get the Aston Martin DB5 1963 in Hot Wheels Unleashed

© Provided by GamePur The Aston Martin DB5 1963 is an iconic classic car for many reasons. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that it finally made the jump to Hot ... Read more »

FIFA 22: How to complete POTM Seko Fofana SBC – Requirements and solutions

© Provided by GamePur The last Player of the Month for September went live on October 21, and this one is for the Ligue 1. Midfielder Seko Fofana took home ... Read more »

McCarthy alleges Jan. 6 select committee's Bannon subpoena is ‘invalid'

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is claiming the Jan. 6 select committee’s subpoena for documents and testimony from Steve Bannon is “invalid” ahead of the House’s vote to recommend that ... Read more »

What is the metaverse? Meaning explained

Metaverse is a broad term that generally refers to shared virtual world environments which people can access via the internet. SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett The concept of the metaverse is ... Read more »

Teresa Giudice Engaged to Louie Ruelas

Teresa Giudice and Louie Ruelas are engaged! The couple of more than a year made things official when Ruelas popped the question while in Greece on vacation, according to photos obtained ... Read more »

Jesse Spencer Shares Emotional Video After 'Chicago Fire' Exit

© Lori Allen/NBC Jesse Spencer‘s exit from Chicago Fire stirred up a lot of emotions for fans on Wednesday’s landmark 200th episode, when he decided to relocate to Portland, Oregon, to look ... Read more »

Supreme Court reverses HC order, Gauri ‘killers' to face stringent law

© Provided by The Times of India NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday reversed a Karnataka HC decision and ruled that those accused in the murder case of journalist ... Read more »

Exclusive: Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline -sources

1 / 2Exclusive: Governments turn tables on ransomware gang REvil by pushing it offline -sourcesFILE PHOTO: U.S. law enforcement officials discuss May ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline during news conference ... Read more »

What are the common warning signs of urological and abdominal cancer? Dr Hilary explains

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, many cancer sufferers avoided seeking urgent help and as a result, found themselves in a difficult situation. In a bid to encourage people ... Read more »

Colonel hits back at ‘howling mob' of student protesters who bombarded university talk

Colonel Richard Kemp criticised the ‘shouting and yelling’ by demonstrators outside the University of Essex – Tony Margiocchi Students should not be allowed to be bullied or intimidated for attending ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic