Angela Merkel’s mea culpa on refugee policy failures

Resentment at home and abroad of her generosity is now a feature of German and European politics

 

“We have to get better. I do as well.” Angela Merkel frankly acknowledged policy failings by her party and government on refugee policy yesterday in Berlin after the Christian Democrats lost six points in the regional election there to finish third with 17.6 per cent of the vote.

The headline-catching performance by the hard right Alternative für Deutschland in this relatively left-wing locale confirmed its breakthrough to representation in 10 of Germany’s 16 länder. Another potential national trend is being set in negotiations to bring the Social Democrats and Greens into a Berlin coalition for the first time with the Left party.

Mrs Merkel identified problems with housing the 1.3 million refugees who came to Germany last year and this, said asylum procedures are too slow and admitted it is too soon to know whether the labour market will be able to absorb them.

“If I could, I would turn back time many, many years to better prepare myself, the federal government and all those in positions of responsibility for the situation we were rather unprepared for in the late summer of 2015,” she said, adding: “no one – including myself – wants a repeat of that situation”. But she quite correctly observed that polling showing high levels of dissatisfaction with these failings does not advise her what to do about them.

She has to bear the political consequences of her decision on September 4th 2015 when she set aside EU rules for refugees heading from Budapest to Germany and Austria. Resentment at home and abroad of that generosity is now a feature of German and European politics, as similar radical right-wing populist parties consolidate support. A new politics of security and borders is one general consequence.

Mrs Merkel is vulnerable to domestic and European criticism, but shows little sign of reversing policy in this area as distinct from tightening up access and procedures. She quite correctly argues against conflating refugee and anti-terrorism policy.

Alternatives to her leadership of the CDU are few in number and quality. She is still expected to lead the party into two major länder elections next year before the federal vote next September. Setbacks for governing parties are common in Germany’s regional elections between national ones.

And while it is important to realise the historic significance of the AfD’s breakthrough to become the first party to the right of the CDU, there are countervailing trends.These include stronger performances by the Greens and the Left party which, by and large, support Mrs Merkel’s refugee policy. A lot now depends on how the Social Democrats evaluate such a national tripartite coalition as an alternative to the current grand one.

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