The Brief – ‘We will make it’, but not alone

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/GYORGY VARGA]

Exactly five years ago to the day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel uttered a phrase that will forever mark her 16 years in office and become a symbol of optimism and openness towards refugees: “We will make it” (“Wir schaffen das”). What conclusion can we draw from this today?

These were shocking images that arrived on our screens in the summer of 2015. They showed us queues and queues of refugees, most of them Syrians, fleeing the carnage in their countries, to seek refuge in Europe.

In view of the exponential number of these refugees arriving in Germany, Merkel warned at her traditional summer press conference on 31 August 2015 against messages of “coldness” or even “hatred” from the extreme right.

She added that she was “confident” that the German administration and civil society would be able to integrate them and pronounced “We will make it”.

Five years later, the integration of almost two million people fleeing war has not brought Germany to the brink of chaos that some people had readily predicted. But it does cruelly underline the continuing lack of European solidarity.

Between 2015 and 2019, some 1.7 million people applied for asylum in Germany, something unseen since the end of the Second World War. This represents around 40% of all asylum applications in the EU over these five years. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Germany is currently the second most accepting country in the world – after Turkey.

And Merkel was right, Germany has risen to the challenges of receiving refugees. The country has relied on the two tried and tested pillars of the integration process: German classes, including for stay-at-home mothers in order to bring them out of their isolation, and integration into the job market via vocational training programmes.

According to the latest figures from the Institute for Employment Research (IAB), almost half of the refugees who came to Germany after 2013 are now employed. The agency also notes that their integration into the labour market has progressed faster than that of refugees in previous years.

Five years later, speaking again at her traditional summer press conference, the Chancellor revisited and fully endorsed her decision at the time.

“I would take the same essential decisions (…) When so many people are massed at the borders (…), they must be treated humanely,” she stressed.

But when you look at the broader European angle, the picture is quite different.

Not only Germany but also Greece and Italy are facing a wall when it comes to their justified claim for a fair and equitable redistribution of refugees within the European Union. The much-vaunted European solidarity is sorely lacking here.

Indeed, the EU has proved incapable of reforming its own asylum system. Since 2015, the divisions between member states have become so intractable that one questions their genuine political will to manage a common space.

The only possible point of agreement between the 27 has been the strengthening of border controls and support for transit countries such as Turkey, Libya and Morocco, thus contributing to the erection of a real anti-immigration wall at its borders, and giving geopolitical trump cards to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Germany shows it is possible to integrate refugees. Europe could as well, but only if it leaves behind the every man for himself approach.

The Roundup

If Greece expands its maritime borders in the Aegean Sea, this will be a cause of war, Turkish foreign affairs minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said.

Only if Europe is able to defuse crises in its neighbourhood on its own will Europe remain an attractive ally for the US, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, after a week in which the bloc struggled to find a common approach to the crisis in Belarus and with Turkey.

A Belgian government plan to boost domestic tourism got up and running, as applications for a free railway pass finally opened after a delay of a few months.

Talks on a post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and the UK have stalled because of the UK’s uncompromising and unrealistic attitude, France’s Foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned on Monday

Protestors rallied in the German city of Koblenz on Sunday and participants told EURACTIV they were demanding sweeping farming reforms as EU agricultural ministers began two days of informal talks hosted by Germany’s Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner

The pro-Western party of long-reigning Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic’s suffered a major setback in Montenegro’s tightly contested parliamentary election, failing to win a majority for the first time in 29 years.

The Proterina-3Evolution project has gathered fourteen Italian and French partners from the coastal region to fight against flood risks together, as they share the same risks and benefit from the same support fund.

The German state and federal agriculture ministers agreed to extensively restructure livestock farming. In parallel, a national animal welfare label is to be introduced soon.

Look out for…

  • Informal Agriculture and Fisheries Council
  • European Parliament’s BUDG, EMPL, CULT, AFET, PECH Committees

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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