After German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted late last year that she had “lost control” of Germany’s refugee crisis after adopting an “open door” policy that fueled an unprecedented spike in crime, her weakened ruling coalition announced Monday that it would seek to impose new restrictions on the number of refugees admitted to the country.
Germany famously admitted nearly one million refugees from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and other war zones in 2015, a five-fold increase over the previous year.
Migrants repaid Germany for its openness by committing 142,500 crimes during the first six months of 2016, including several high-profile sexual assaults.
And now it seems Merkel has hit a wall and folded...
Merkel announced the policy change on Monday during a joint news conference with Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union - the more conservative partner to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union – following discussions in which the two parties sought compromises on a number of issues following poor results in the federal elections two weeks ago, according to CNN.
"We will continue our efforts to reduce, sustainably and permanently, the number of people who flee to Germany and Europe, so that a situation like that of 2015 will not and cannot be repeated," reads a joint CSU/CDU position paper published Monday. "We guarantee that."
Last month, the Trump administration took steps to cap the number of refugees admitted into the US at 45,000 annually – a dramatic reduction. However, Merkel’s conservative allies pledged that nobody would be turned back at the German border, according to WSJ, while adding that the German Parliament could suspend the cap in the event of an international crisis.
The bloc agreed to limit to 200,000 annually the number of people allowed to enter Germany for humanitarian reasons. The conservatives pledged at the same time that people wouldn’t be turned back at the German border, expressing their support for the right to seek asylum in Germany and for the Geneva refugee convention, which states that countries should give protection to those who flee war and expulsion, and those who are politically persecuted.
“We continue with our efforts to permanently reduce the number of people fleeing to Germany and Europe in order to prevent a repeat of the situation such as in 2015” when Germany took in 890,000 asylum seekers, Ms. Merkel said Monday, presenting the agreement to reporters.
She said the parties agreed on measures that will ensure that the total number of admissions won’t exceed 200,000 people a year. These include dealing with newcomers seeking asylum in Germany in centralized centers where their claims will be quickly decided. Rejected asylum seekers will then be rapidly deported back to their home countries. With this move, the parties hope to speed up asylum proceedings and increase the number of deportations.
The limit of allowing up to 200,000 migrants entering the country every year could be amended by the German Parliament if an international crisis warrants it, the compromise said.
The stunning capitulation follows an embarrassing showing by Merkel’s Christian Democrats during September’s federal elections. While the party again received the largest share of the vote, its support declined by more than 8% from the prior election in Merkel’s worst-ever performance. Meanwhile, the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party secured an unprecedented 13% of the vote, enough for it to earn representative in parliament – the first time a far-right party had been voted into Germany’s parliament since World War II.
To be sure, WSJ says the policy change is purely symbolic, adding that it would likely be scuttled by the time Merkel’s party successfully forms a governing coalition. Instead of representing meaningful change, the announcement is largely a sop to more moderate-leaning conservatives.
The deal appears to be, however, a largely symbolic concession to Ms. Merkel’s Bavaria allies that may change little in practice, partly because the right to asylum is enshrined in Germany’s constitution.
Such an upper limit will also likely be hard to push through in talks to forge a nationally yet untested coalition government with both potential partners, the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens. Ms. Merkel on Saturday said she would seek a coalition with those parties and would let an extraordinary party convention vote on any coalition deal.
Indeed, Merkel’s Bavarian allies have been calling for an annual limit of 200,000 on refugees since Germany opened its borders in the fall of 2015. In passing the rule, Merkel is acknowledging that her center right party has moved too far to the center, and must now sharpen its conservative credentials.
Ultimately, whether the policy survives the complicated process of coalition building remains to be seen. But if nothing else, Merkel’s reluctant reversal validates countries like Poland and Hungary, which were threatened with EU fines over their steadfast refusals to take in refugees.