Monday, November 09, 2015

EU refugee crisis

The most important common thread connecting the eurozone crisis to the refugee crisis is the prominent role of nationalist appeals and actions by Germany under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The ruinous austerity policies imposed on "periphery" countries like Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain have been justified by rhetoric from Merkel, her CDU/CSU party and her coalition partner party the SPD, that emphasized that those countries were under the tutelage of Germany. The fact that "periphery" became a common way to describe the less powerful economies of the eurozone, all of which are developed countries, is telling. That term was previously used to refer to the colonial situation with the colonizing powers called the "metropoles" and the colonized countries the "periphery." (Greece is well on the way to slipping out of the developed category if the austerity continues.) The contempt for their eurozone partners promoted by the two biggest political parties and fueled by bad press coverage (not just from the tabloids either!) made it far more difficult to negotiate half-reasonable economic policies in the Greek crisis earlier this year. And the fear and hostility generated by Merkel's handling of the euro crisis is a major barrier to further integration in the EU or to the kind of policies that would allow the fatally flawed euro to serve long-term.

Regugees from Syria now arriving in Europe have been met with met in Austria and Germany with crass xenophobia from a significant portion of the population. And that hostility has been amplified by "mainstream" politicians seeking to further exploit nationalist fear and hatred. Like the euro crisis, the refugee crisis is discussed as being a problem for the further existence of the EU. With Britain threatening an exit from the EU unless the EU is weakened rather than strengthen, the possible disintegration of the EU is a real near-term possibility. (Nicholas Watt, Cameron vows to 'throw himself headlong' into keeping Britain in a reformed EU Guardian 11/09/2015; Flüchtlingskrise: Luxemburgs Außenminister warnt vor Zerfall der EU Spiegel Online 09.11.2015)

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière suggested publicly that Syrian refugees should be given restricted asylum rights, less than those currently afforded: a more restricted asylum time limit, refusal of family reunification rights now protected. This has caused grumbling and grumping within Merkel's coalition. Some observers interpret the flap as a looming government crisis, i.e., one that would bring down Merkel's coalition and force new elections. For example: Björn Hengst et al, Merkel in der Flüchtlingskrise: Die Vertrauensfrage Spiegel Online 09.11.2015, who points to dissent from Merkel's official position and coalition policy from prominent officials in the CDU and CSU. Including Finance Minister and Scourge of Greece, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), and Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder (CSU). He doesn't specifically mention the far more prominent dissent of CSU head Horst Seehofer. (Stefan Braun und Christoph Hickmann, Seehofer befeuert neuen Asyl-Streit Süddeutsche Zeitung 08.11.2015; Braun und Hickman, CDU-Spitze zwingt Merkel zur Kurskorrektur Süddeutsche Zeitung 09.11.2015)

Left-leaning Jakob Augstein is also on board with the idea of a governmental crisis being in progress: Minister gegen Merkel: Der Putsch Spiegel Online 09.11.2015:

Kontrollverlust. So lautet der Vorwurf, der Angela Merkel in der Flüchtlingskrise gemacht wird. Zu Recht. Eine Kanzlerin ohne Kontrolle ist eine Kanzlerin in der Krise. Aber Merkels Problem sind nicht die Fremden. Sondern ihre Freunde. Niemand sollte von Merkel erwarten, die Flüchtlingsströme im Griff zu haben. Aber man muss von ihr erwarten, dass sie ihre Regierung im Griff hat. Kontrolle über die Flüchtlingsströme ist eine Illusion. Kontrolle über die eigenen Minister eine Notwendigkeit. Wir erleben die Entmachtung einer Kanzlerin. Ist es für ein Machtwort schon zu spät?

[Loss of control. That is the accusation that is being made against Angela Merkel in the refugee crisis. Rightly so. A Chancellor without control is a Chancellor in crisis. But the foreigners are not Merkel's problem. But rather her friends. No one should expect that Merkel will get a handle on the refugee influx. But one would expect from her that she would get a handle on her own government. Control over the stream of refugees is an illusion. Control over her own Ministers a necessity. We are experiencing the disempowerment of a Chancellor. Is it already too late for a definitive solution (Machtwort)?]
The lesson he takes from this situation is, "Die Flüchtlingskrise ist zur Regierungskrise geworden." ("The refugee crisis has become a governmental crisis.")

Jens Berger suspects that what we're seeing instead is some cynical political Kabuki, in which the coalition's agreed policy will continue in force while the CDU/CSU demagogue the issue to pull in some xenophobic votes. (Subsidiärer Theaterdonner – wie die CDU am rechten Rand fischt Nachdenkseiten 09.11.2015

Berger argues that De Maizière as Interior Minister (roughly equivalent to Attorney General in the US) does not have the power to implement the changes in asylum policy that he suggests. It is largely regulated by the 1951 Geneva Refugees Convention, of which Germany is a signatory. An English webpage on the Convention is available on the site of the UN Refugee Commission, UNHCR.

Berger thinks the German politicians like Seehofer and De Maizière are trying to give the public an idea that a change in legal handling would stem the current influx of refugees, though it won't. One change that could be made would be to change the current decision that puts all Syrian refugees on a fast track for asylum to one that treats them all as potential candidates for asylum. But Berger argues that the only thing that would accomplish is to further overburden the asylum courts, which are already overwhelmed. They would have to argue their case for asylum through a longer court process. It won't stop the refugees from coming.

He concludes:

Der Theaterdonner von Thomas de Maizière erfüllt dennoch seinen Zweck. Zwischen den Zeilen liest sich sein unausgegorener Vorstoß nämlich folgendermaßen: Abschieben, kein Nachzug, harte Hand, weniger Flüchtlinge. Das kommt beim rechten Flügel unserer Gesellschaft natürlich gut an. Die Union hat es in den letzten Monaten ohnehin geschafft, beinahe den gesamten gesellschaftlichen Diskurs zum Thema innerhalb ihrer eigenen Reihen aufzunehmen. Für „Helldeutschland“ gibt es Angela Merkel und Peter Altmaier, die an die humanitäre Seite appellieren und aus der Not eine Tugend machen, indem sie sich öffentlich dafür rühmen, dass sie die gegebenen Gesetze befolgen. Und auf der anderen Seite gibt es die Seehofers und de Maizières, die für „Dunkeldeutschland“ eine harte Kante vorspielen und zumindest verbal munter im braunen Sumpf fischen. Außen vor steht die SPD, die sich das Schauspiel anschaut, als sei sie das Kaninchen vor der Schlange. Die Medien sind derweil außer sich vor Freude, dass ihnen ein derartiges Schauspiel geboten wird. Als Teile der CDU 2002 bei der Debatte des Zuwanderungsgesetzes ähnlichen Theaterdonner veranstaltet haben, ließ der damalige saarländische Ministerpräsident Peter Müller das Publikum Monate später wissen. „Die Empörung hatten wir verabredet. Das war Theater, aber legitimes Theater“. Gut möglich, dass sich Thomas de Maizière oder Peter Altmaier in einigen Monaten genau so äußern.

[The theatrical thunder of Thomas de Maizière nevertheless fulfills its goal. Between the lines, one can read his half-baked thrust: deportation, no return, hard line, fewer refugees. Of course, that sounds good to the rightwing of our society. The Union {CDU/CSU} in recent months has managed to take nearly all of the social discourse to become themes within their own ranks. For "Light Germany" {„Helldeutschland“} there are Angela Merkel and Peter Altmeier {her refugee coordinator}, who appeal to the humanitarian side and make a virtue out of the emergency, in which they publicly take responsibility that they follow the given laws. And on the other side, there are the Seehofers and De Maizières, who feign a hard edge for the "Dark Germany" and at least verbally fish jauntily in the brown {neo-Nazi} swamp. The SPDm who is just watching the show, stands ignored, like the rabbit before the snake. When parts of the CDU in 2002 staged similar theatrical thunder in the debate on the immigration debate, the then Governor of Saarland Peter Müller let the public know months later, "We colluded on the outrage. It was theater, but legitimate theater." It's quite possible that Thomas de Maizière or Peter Altmaier will be speaking the same way in a few months.]
But the disagreements among the EU states about taking on refugees, and the wall-building craze that is catching on represent a real failure of the EU to put together a coordinated response to a real crisis. And the resulting nationalist agitation in various countries further complicates the EU process to improve its institutions going forward.

This crisis is not new, it's been going on for years. And, like with the euro crisis, Merkel has been relying on extend-and-pretend stopgap solutions. The fallout from that style has been not only problems going unsolved, but mutual distrust among EU nations that make real problems even harder to solve.

Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn goes even further. Speaking of the refugee crisis and the failure to date to achieve the necessary cooperation among EU nations, he says, "Der Kitt, der uns zusammenhält, ist noch immer die Kultur der humanen Werte. Und dieser falsche Nationalismus kann zu einem richtigen Krieg führen." ("The cement that holds us together is always the culture of humane values. And this false nationalism can lead to a real war.") Asselborn warnt vor Zerfall der EU Die Zeit 09.11.2015.

This Spanish-language video from TV Pública argentina gives an overview of the current stage of the refugee crisis V7inter - Crisis migratoria en Europa 11/07/2015:

Wolfgang Münchau has been a persistent critic of Merkel's disastrous handling of the euro crisis. And he's also unimpressed with her stopgap approach on the refugee crisis either, as he explains in Merkels unmoralische Flüchtlingspolitik Spiegel Online 30.10.2015.

In der praktischen Politik hingegen versteckte und versteckt sie sich aber in beiden Fällen hinter nationalen deutschen Interessen und unternimmt nur das mindeste, um eine Eskalation der Krise zu verhindern. Das hehre Prinzip überlebt - aber nur kosmetisch. Den Euro gibt es natürlich noch, und es wird ihn auch weiterhin geben. Aber ökonomisch ist das Experiment einer europäischen Währungsunion gescheitert. Die Skeptiker unter den Ökonomen hatten recht. Die Politik laviert zwischen einer Scheinwelt, in der wir alle gerettet sind, und einer Realität, in der es allen schlechter geht als zuvor.

Ich stimme somit überhaupt nicht mit dem Konsens über Merkels historische Leistung überein: Euro-Krise schlecht. Flüchtlingskrise gut. Ich sehe stattdessen die Gemeinsamkeiten eines politischen Managements, das kein Problem löst und alles nur vor sich herschiebt.

[In practical policy, however {in contrast to Merkel's good PR internationally on the refugee crisis}, she has hidden herself and is hiding herself behind German national interests and undertakes on the minimum {needed} to prevent an escalation of the crisis. The sublime principle survives - but only cosmetically. The euro, of course, still exists, and will continue to exist. But economically the experiment of a European currency union has failed. The skeptics among the economists were right. Policy maneuvers between a world of appearances in which everyone is saved, and the reality in which things are going worse for everyone than before.

I absolutely disagree with the consensus on Merkel's historic service {which says}: euro crisis bad, refugee crisis good. Instead, I see the commonalities of a political management that solves no problem and only shuffles around everything before it.]
In the crisis, Münchau sees Merkel relying on measures that have to be centrally managed to be effective, but have to be coordinated in a decentralized manner. Berlin can't just order other countries to take a quota of refugees designated by Angie.

He describes her current official approach this way:

Denken Sie jetzt mal die Merkelsche Flüchtlingspolitik bis zu ihrem bitteren Ende. Es werden mehr Flüchtlinge kommen. Und Merkel wird natürlich nicht die Grenze zu machen. Sie wird stattdessen mit den Türken verhandeln. Mit den Griechen. Und mit den Kroaten. Sie wird enorme Summen lockermachen, um dafür zu sorgen, dass die Flüchtlinge nicht weiter in den Westen kommen. So wie die griechische Wirtschaft in einer permanenten Rezession verharrt, so werden die Flüchtlinge in permanenten Aufnahmelagern verharren.

[Now think through the Merkelian refugee policy to its bitter end. More refugees will come. And Merkel will of course not close the border. Instead, she will negotiate with Turkey. With the Greeks. And with the Croats. She will make enormous sums available in order to insure that the refugees don't come farther to the west {i.e., to Germany}. Just as the Greek economy is stuck in a permanent recession, so the refugees will be stuck in permanent receiving centers.]
Heck of a job, Angie, heck of a job! Maybe she could hire Shrub Bush's FEMA director Michael "Brownie" Brown as an adviser on refugee policy. Shoot, may she already has!

This BBC News piece by Mark Mardell also notices the high-risk nature of Merkel's current policies, Migrant crisis will decide Merkel's future 05.11.2015:

Mutti has applied balm to the wound, and covered it with a sticking plaster. It is what mothers do.

Angela Merkel's nickname {Mutti} captures the sense of a leader of homely, sensible authority and comforting common sense.

The verb "to Merkel" - prevaricate - could soon have a whole new meaning: she who dares, wins. Perhaps.

The sticking plaster could soon peel off, leaving the wound merely less politically visible, although still publicly festering.

She has risked her reputation on a gamble that at first sight seems totally out of character - "reckless" is not a word you would normally apply to her 10 years in power.

One usually loyal German politician told me her decision to open Germany's borders to all refugees from Sudan and Syria was "madness". [my emphasis]
But I would say that Angie's risking "her reputation on a gamble" would seem "totally out of character" only to those who have followed her decision-making approach on the euro crisis. A defining feature of Merkel's political style is to maintain a public image of benevolence and responsibility while actually running a highwire act.

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