Schulz keeps options open on refugee policy

Martin Schulz has refrained from providing too specific answers. It's a strategy that has seen his popularity increase significantly of late. [Drop of Light/ Shutterstock]

Martin Schulz will contest this year’s federal elections and he believes the refugee crisis needs a European solution. But do Germans think his increase in popularity is only a short-lived phenomenon? EURACTIV’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

A document written by the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) chairman, Thomas Oppermann, published on the party’s website and entitled “We need controlled immigration”, has provoked a lot of criticism.

In it, Oppermann calls for a broader approach to refugee policy, in which eliminating the causes of flight in countries of origin would be prioritised.

The fact that Oppermann is advocating tackling mafia-like smuggling operations through closer cooperation “not only with war-torn Libya, but also stable transit countries in North Africa, like Morocco and Tunisia”, has not gone down well with other SPD politicians, given the often horrendous conditions in Libyan refugee camps.

In the meantime, though, he clarified that he is not calling for refugees to be returned to Libya at this time, acknowledging that “that country is too unstable”.

Returning refugees has been a policy that has been pursued by German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) and it is an approach that the SPD has long fought against.

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“The more refugees that board unseaworthy boats, the more refugees will drown,” he warned. The target, he explained, is to break this “deadly cycle” and improve the “intolerable situation of refugees”.

But how does the party’s candidate for the chancellorship, Martin Schulz, view refugee policy? Schulz’s recent high-flying poll results show that many voters are starting to put their hopes in him, but he hasn’t provided many definite answers to the specific questions that have been asked of him.

Given his recent statements on refugee policy, it looks like Schulz is keeping his options open. During his inaugural speech as leader, he passionately defended people’s rights to protection from political persecution. The former European Parliament president also insisted that a purely German solution is not enough and that a European approach is needed.

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At the same time, he will have undoubtedly appealed to the more authoritative branches of the party by saying “any criminal activity in Germany or failure to follow the rules will be met with the full force of German law and the German security authorities”. But the more tangible and specific Schulz’s answers become, the more he runs the risk of disappointing expectations.

More than half of Germans (55.8%) think that the upswing in SPD popularity is only a short-lived phenomenon, according to a poll carried out in cooperation with Der Tagesspiegel. Only 36.9% think that it is a sustainable swing in support, compared with 84.3% of SPD supporters.

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