More and more desperate people are fleeing from Idlib, Syria, and waiting at the Greek-Turkish border in the hope of getting into the EU. During the 2015 refugee crisis, it was possible to enter Germany – this time around, it’s different. What has happened in the past five years?
“Wir schaffen das [we can do it],” a confident German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in August 2015 in the face of rising refugee numbers.
Shortly afterwards, Germany opened its doors to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who flew Syria, Afghanistan and other countries at war.
At that time, Angela Merkel shrugged off the already emerging criticism by saying: “If we now start having to apologise for showing a friendly face in emergency situations, then this is not my country.”
Today it sounds different.
“We need order at the external borders of the European Union. We will support Greece with all our might in this respect. Europe’s borders are not open to refugees from Turkey, and this also applies to our German borders,” the German interior ministry tweeted this week in several languages, including Arabic.
How can this U-turn be explained?
The German Central Council of Muslims summed it up very clearly after a right-wing extremist shot nine people dead in the city of Hanau in February.
“The terrorist of Hanau may have been a lone perpetrator, but his murderous racist ideology is by no means an isolated case and does not stand alone, as the frightening election results show and as fascists in radical right-wing parties in our country prove almost daily,” it said in a statement.
“Mölln, Solingen, Rostock-Hoyerswerda, Marwa El-Sherbini, the NSU series of murders, Lübcke, Halle, not to mention Christchurch, Oslo, Pittsburgh in the international context, have left a long trail of blood (…) in Germany.”
This “long trail of blood” can be traced back to the open-door policy of 2015, which for many observers has contributed to the political revival of what was at the time a relatively quiet AfD.
The far-right party is now so vocal that it has managed to split the once unwavering CDU into two camps: one that wants to draw a clear dividing line with the AfD, and the other, well, advocating an open-door policy with the party.
What this means is that even if Berlin agrees that an untrustworthy partner (Turkey) is playing the refugee card to put pressure on the EU and NATO, leading German politicians in the governing coalition do not have a proper strategy because of the ongoing debate about how to deal with the AfD and the migration issue.
Instead, they are worried about Erdogan’s latest steps – urging the thousands of starving families stranded at the Turkish-Syrian border to go to the EU. And many in Berlin are aware that far too little has been done in recent years on the refugee front.
So, at a time of highly sensitive political developments, let us recall some economic facts in the hope of bringing back some rationality to the debate:
For Turkey, the EU is by far the largest trading partner, with EU imports rising by 9% in 2018 to reach 76,1 billion euros. Turkey is the fifth-largest trading partner for EU export goods, and sixth largest trading partner for EU import goods.
That means that Ankara does depend on European investors. The EU, and Germany of all countries, do hold cards in their hand and should not be paralysed by fear and the sense of emergency. For the sake of refugees and of the European Union.
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Look out for…
Informal meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers; Foreign Affairs Council in Zagreb, focusing on Syria.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]