Merkel Backpedals On Migrants Amid Growing Furor

On Saturday, we documented clashes between leftists, neo-Nazis, and riot police in southern Leipzig.

According to eyewitness accounts, the scene turned violent when around 150 far-right protesters including the neo-Nazi party Die Rechte (the Right), xenophobic organization Offensive für Deutschland (OfD) (Offensive for Germany), and a division of the PEGIDA movement called Thugida, encountered “hundreds” of leftists staging a counter-protest. 

When police attempted to intervene, the leftists became violent. Dozens of officers were injured, fires were set in the streets, and protesters hurled rocks at authorities who responded with water cannons and tear gas. Here are some images from the melee:

As we noted on Saturday, the turmoil came just days after a migrant bus en route to a shelter in Jahnsdorf was attacked with firecrackers. That incident, along with the beating of refugee school children by their classmates last Thursday in Wurzen, prompted Aydan Özoguz, from the German government's commission for the integration of foreigners, to declare that the country is descending into a "xenophobic abyss."

We predicted this would happen months ago, when we warned readers that the influx of migrants into Western Europe risked triggering dangerous bouts of scapegoating xenophobia. The likelihood of such a decidedly bad outcome only grew in the wake of the Paris attacks and the subsequent bomb scare in Hanover. 

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel was named TIME magazine’s person of the year. Here’s an excerpt from TIME’s feature: 

“At a moment when much of the world is once more engaged in a furious debate about the balance between safety and freedom, the Chancellor is asking a great deal of the German people, and by their example, the rest of us as well. To be welcoming. To be unafraid. To believe that great civilizations build bridges, not walls, and that wars are won both on and off the battlefield. By viewing the refugees as victims to be rescued rather than invaders to be repelled, the woman raised behind the Iron Curtain gambled on freedom.”

Yes, she “gambled on freedom” (well, except for that time in July when she sealed Greece’s fate as Berlin’s eternal debt serf), and politically speaking, that gamble is looking more and more dangerous by the day as Germans are quickly coming to terms with what it means for a country of 82 million to take in a million asylum seekers. Here, for those who missed it, are two of the scariest charts if you’re the Iron Chancellor:

Now, Merkel looks to be backpedalling on the migrant issue in the face of growing pressure from lawmakers and from the German populace. “We want to, and will, appreciably reduce the number of refugees, because it's in everyone's interest," she said, in her keynote speech during the CDU party congress in Karlsruhe, Germany. 

Well, not everyone’s interests. It’s not in the interests of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who still dream of settling in Germany, but at this juncture, Merkel seems to understand that the long-term effects of Berlin’s open-door policy are hard to predict and while there’s certainly something to be said for proving that Germany can serve as a beacon of hope for the millions of refugees who have lost nearly everything, the government must also consider the consequences both for German society and for the Chancellor’s legacy of allowing several more million migrants to enter the country in the year ahead. 

“Heading into her party’s annual convention, Merkel set the tone of her keynote speech scheduled Monday by saying Germany’s economy is strong enough to handle more than 1 million people claiming asylum this year,” Bloomberg notes

But while striking an upbeat tone, she seemed to signal a shift in strategy in the same breath. “The message is: we want to reduce,” the Chancellor said in the interview from Karlsruhe. “We want to noticeably reduce the number of people who come to us, but not through unilateral national measures alone, but by looking at why refugees have to leave their homes in the first place.”

And here’s some more doublespeak (from an interview with ZDF Television: “Of course we have to take people’s concerns seriously, but precisely on the basis of the concept I’ve been advocating for months.” 

“CDU leaders made some rhetorical concessions to members worried about Germany's ability to absorb more newcomers,” AP says, observing that “the party's motion now says it is determined to reduce the refugee influx through ‘effective measures’ since ‘a continuation of the current influx would in the long term overburden the state and society.’”

Yes, “effective measures.”

We wonder if that includes sending six warplanes, a warship, and 1,200 soldiers to the country from which the refugees are fleeing.

Or perhaps she means bribing Turkey by handing Erdogan a €3 billion check which he will most certainly use to fund the extremists wreaking havoc on Syria.

Or maybe she meant turning a key migrant chokepoint (Greece) into a third world country by forcing its government to implement fiscal retrenchment in the face of a deep recession. 

Merkel received an 8-minute standing ovation at the end of her keynote.