Now that Angela Merkel is leaving her post as chancellor, the portraits are centered on her role as a representative of Western liberalism. An island of stability, caution and openness in an era marked by turbulence and the reactions of the extreme right.
Merkel will be remembered for her “serious work, stable leadership and a gift for political compromise,” she wrote. Ishaan Tharoor at the Washington Post In the past week. Already in 2017, when she faced Donald Trump, she was declared by some newspapers as the new “leader of the free world.”
A fundamental part of that image has been built with the intervention he made, in the summer of 2015, at the peak of the refugee crisis in Europe. Wir schaffen das (“we will make it “) was Merkel’s public statement as thousands of people, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, traversed Turkey, Greece and the Balkans to reach Western Europe. By declaring Germany, and by extension Europe, open to the refugees was making a bold and pragmatic declaration of intent.
The two myths
But two contradictory myths have arisen around this time and they both overestimate the importance of their intervention and confuse its effects.
On the one hand, the populist right blames Merkel for promoting one of the largest mass migrations in the continent’s recent history. A “catastrophic mistake”, according to Trump, that would undermine European security and identity as a result of overwhelming foreign intrusion.
On the other hand, progressives treat it as a triumph. According to this version, Merkel’s position was faithful to the values that supposedly sustain the European project. The EU is, after all, the only geopolitical bloc that has received the Nobel Peace Prize and has shown that crises can be approached with compassion.
In reality, Merkel’s contribution to European migration policy went far beyond the “wir schaffen das” and his legacy is much more complex.
Such as an investigation has shown from Die ZeitMerkel’s speech did not significantly encourage migration: it recognized a reality that already existed.
The refugee crisis had already been going on for several months before the summer of 2015. Migrants were moved more by pushing them to leave their homes than by the welcome that awaited them in Europe.
For example, Syrians in 2015 faced a worsening conflict, reduced food rations from humanitarian aid agencies and a ban on being employed in Lebanon and Turkey, where most of the refugees settled. Syrians. When Germany announced in September 2015 that it would keep its borders open to refugees heading west from Keleti train station in Budapest, they had already been traveling for months.
Furthermore, the “crisis” in Europe, unleashed by the chaotic and lethal arrival of people passing not only through Greece but across the Mediterranean from Africa, was to a greater extent the product of the continent’s border policies. The strategy has been to shut down the safest routes and push people to end up in dangerous bottlenecks.
With Merkel’s government, Germany played a central role in creating that problem: it helped maintain a system where border security was above the reception of refugees. Between 2007 and 2013, the EU spent € 2 billion on border security while only € 700 million was allocated to the reception of migrants, according to Amnesty International data.
On the other hand, Merkel’s insistence on austerity as a solution to Europe’s previous economic crisis fatally weakened the ability of front-line states to respond to the surge in refugee numbers at a crucial time. Even the opening moment expressed by Merkel’s speech was brief as Germany soon returned to work on rebuilding “Fortress Europe.”
By mid-September 2015, Germany deployed temporary controls on its border with Austria and thus began a process that would eventually close the migration routes in Southeast Europe. A few months later, it was Merkel who led the proposal that in 2016 trapped many refugees in Turkey. Germany has done nothing to stop the EU’s authoritarian turn that has made search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
And although Merkel has not radically altered the course of the European crisis, she did change the tone of the debate at a crucial moment that, although fleeting, was important. Its effects can be seen in the German reception for the 1.7 million asylum seekers between 2015 and 2019.
Despite the harsh predictions of the right wing, the decision was an indisputable success. More than half of the refugees they are working and paying taxeswhile more than 80% of refugee children say they feel welcome in Germany and feel comfortable. The xenophobic reaction that articulates the fear of crime and terrorism is real but it is something that can be and is being questioned.
The comparison with the British Government, for example, is illuminating: even as Boris Johnson’s Government proclaims its generosity to a small fraction of the people currently trying to flee Afghanistan (the official plan promises to take in 20,000 people in five years), this is minimized by other positions.
For example, the promise of “return“Migrant ships crossing the English Channel, one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. This measure can have fatal consequences if it is applied.
The response to the recent influx of Afghans, sustained by a huge volunteer effort, shows the precariousness of the UK asylum system: why is it that volunteers and charities have to give essential assistance?
Ultimately, Merkel’s legacy speaks less of the actions of a female president than of what can be done if a society is willing to help those in need. It is a collective effort. But the myths and symbols that are the bargaining chip for politicians have the ability to enhance those efforts, or destroy them.
In the UK, the asylum debate is often dominated by competition to see who sounds tougher: between politicians who are enthusiastic about hard-right programs, and those who declare themselves progressive but take strong stances because they think they are. the public wants.
This goes beyond the peculiar cruelties of the current British Government: it is the product of years of xenophobia fueled by the right wing press, which will require enormous effort to combat.
But Merkel’s case should remind us, despite the real inconsistency of her actions, that there is always an alternative.
Daniel Trilling is the author of Lights at a Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe and Bloody Nasty People: the Rise of Britain’s Far Right.
Translation by Ignacio Rial-Schies