Friday, September 18, 2015

"Mama Merkel", the EU and the refugees

Roland Nelles has a kiss-up-to-Merkel column, Unapologetic, Unequivocal: The Real Merkel Finally Stands up Spiegel International 09/16/2015. (German original: Kanzlerin in der Flüchtlingskrise: Die wahre Angela M. Spiegel Online 16.09.2015) He plays up the "Mama Merkel" image that Chancellor Angela Merkel has projected by unilaterally declaring Germany will accept hundreds of thousands of refugees while the European Union fails to come to agreement.

This reads like a press release from Merkel's political handlers:

The next crisis is now underway, and she has reacted indignantly to the criticism that Germany is allowing in too many refugees. "If we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in response to emergency situations, then that's not my country," she said on Tuesday. Although delivered in her usual sober way, it was an unexpectedly heartfelt comment that will be remembered for a long time to come.

It wasn't a political tactician speaking this time, but a compassionate pastor's daughter from the eastern state of Brandenburg -- a politician who remains acutely aware of the Christian element in her party's agenda. In this respect she provides a welcome contrast to Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Democrats' Bavarian sister party, the CSU. In his book, charity more or less stops at the garden fence.

But Angela Merkel has not necessarily turned her back on realpolitik completely. As the refugee crisis unfolds, she too will inevitably make compromises and alter direction. Among these compromises are the newly instated border controls. Germany cannot take in all the world's refugees, as Merkel well knows.

But she has now made it obvious that she won't be deviating from her basic course. She is sending a message against knee-jerk xenophobia. That the conservatism of Bavaria's lederhosen brigade and some of her own party colleagues has always remained a foreign concept to Angela Merkel has never been more apparent than it is now. Ten years in office have clearly changed Merkel. She now has the strength and independence to state her opinion more stridently, even if it earns her the opprobrium of her allies. [my emphasis]
Political leaders, like everyone else, have seemingly contradictory or inconsistent feelings and priorities. I wouldn't question whether Merkel may feel genuine compassion for refugees.

But the "compassionate pastor's daughter" (mitfühlende Pastorentochter) has ruled the eurozone with thoroughly un-compassionate that have cruelly impoverished millions in Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and particularly Greece. She has successfully transformed the climate within the EU and especially the eurozone into one of competing nationalism. She largely ignored the antidemocratic, authoritarian turn in Viktor Orbán's Hungary while she dictated governments in Greece and Italy and, in 2015, ran a blatant "regime change" operation against the Syriza government in Greece, all the while encouraging the most hateful nationalist sentiments among Germans against the Greek people.

So is Merkel's unquestionably generous gesture toward the refugees an effort to change the nationalistic turn in Germany policy under her Chacellorship?

I doubt it.

Philippe Legrain is on point when he points out Merkel's latest refugee move is actually a sign of her continuing failure as the chief leader of the EU, and a continuation of her nationalistic bullying against other EU nations: "Above all, Germany is trying to strong-arm its neighbors into taking more refugees. Berlin has long insisted that passport-free travel across the Schengen Area could not survive without a common European asylum policy. Now Merkel is unilaterally forcing the issue." (Schengen in Shambles Foreign Policy 09/16/2015)

He also describes Mama Merkel's style of European leadership well:

Angela Merkel’s management of the crisis in the eurozone has been disastrous, her treatment of Greece unforgivable. But the German chancellor has played a much more positive role in Europe’s other crisis: the hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into the continent from the Middle East and Africa. By throwing open the doors to Syrians fleeing a terrible civil war, she has showed up more mean-spirited governments and given Germans pride in themselves. While Merkel was largely following German public opinion, not leading it, she still ended up doing the right thing.

Until now. Over the weekend, Germany closed its border with Austria and then imposed emergency border controls, prompting its neighbors to do likewise. While the European Commission has rubber-stamped the decision — when does it ever hold Berlin’s feet to the fire? — the Schengen Agreement, which is meant to guarantee open borders among its 26 member countries, is now in tatters. At a time when barriers are going up across Europe — Hungary’s authoritarian ultranationalist government is completing a razor-wire fence on its border with non-Schengen Serbia, the main transit route from the Balkans to Germany — this sends a terrible signal. [my emphasis]
The Economist reports, "Europe will soon have more physical barriers on its national borders than it did during the Cold War." (More neighbours make more fences 09/15/2015) If St. Reagan were around today, in order to please conservatives in the US and Europe he would have to say, "Mr. Gorbachev, build up this wall!"

The German ARD channel also reports in (Gesetzesentwurf der Bundesregierung: Radikale Leistungskürzungen für Tausende Flüchtlinge 17.09.2015) that Merkel's government is simultaneously proposing " die Leistungen für Tausende Flüchtlinge radikal zu kürzen" ("to radically cut the support for thousands of refugees").

George Soros summarizes the current problems of the EU, in an article primarily devoted to hawkish advocacy over the conflict between Ukraine and Russia (Ukraine & Europe: What Should Be Done? New York Review of Books 10/08/2015 issue, accessed 09/18/2015):

Because of the structural defects of the euro, the European authorities have had to become masters of the art of muddling through one crisis after another. This practice is popularly known as kicking the can down the road although it would be more accurate to describe it as kicking the can uphill so that it keeps coming back. But Europe now faces at least five crises at the same time: four internal ones — the euro, Greece, migration, and the British referendum on whether to remain in the EU—and an external one, Russian aggression against Ukraine. The various crises tend to reinforce one another. Both the public and the authorities are overwhelmed.
(I'm surprised that the Hungarian-born Soros didn't mention the authoritarianism of that country's current government in such a list.)

Talif Deen reports (U.N. to Host Meeting of World Leaders on Refugee Crisis Inter Press Service 09/15/2015):

The 28-member European Union (EU), which was sharply divided over the Greek bailout financial crisis last year, is facing its biggest test of unity over the growing refugee crisis unfolding in European borders.

At an emergency meeting in Brussels Monday, the EU hesitantly agreed to share some 40,000 refugees – mostly fleeing from war zones in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – but only on a voluntary basis, even as Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands imposed new border control measures to ward off the tidal wave of hundreds and thousands of displaced people flowing into Europe.

The restrictive measures include razor wire fences across land borders and pronouncements by some Eastern and Central European countries that only Christians will be welcomed, triggering strong condemnations by the United Nations.
Joachim Jahnke in Das Desaster der Angela Merkel Infoportal 17.09.2015) also discusses some of the very real practical problems with Merkel's approach: failure to adequately support refugee camps much closer to the Syrian border; continuing problems with ongoing immigrant integration in German society (which are primarily due to xenophobia encouraged by the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter's own CDU/CSU party); over-optimistic estimation of the size and timing of the refugee inflows into Germany; and, of course, failure to establish an effective EU system to handle refugee inflows.

It's not that the influx of refugees/migrants into the EU is a new problem. As just one example, here is a Catholic News Services report from 2011 (Bishops ask Germany to support migrants National Catholic Reporter):

Africa's bishops have asked German President Christian Wulff to support them in their efforts to develop their continent as one way of slowing the flow of migrants into Europe.

Cardinal Polycarp Pengo of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, asked Wulff to urge European governments "not to see the African migrant ... as a stranger or a threat, but rather as a fellow human being who indeed is an asset and not a liability when given the opportunity."

Cardinal Pengo addressed Wulff during SECAM's March 28-April 2 meeting with the German bishops' conference in Berlin. The meeting focused on migration, especially from Africa to Europe, and the church's responsibility for refugees and migrants.

Africa's bishops "also appeal to you to support us and our governments in our quest to provide the necessary conditions for the development of Africa as one of the ways to mitigate the challenges of migration," Cardinal Pengo said, noting recent violence in North Africa and Ivory Coast.
But, as Soros noted, the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter and the rest of the EU leaders kicked the can up the hill on this issue for years. And it keeps rolling back down.

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