In the immediate wake of the massacres in Paris last Friday, the finance minister for the German state of Bavaria, Markus Söder, feverishly called for an end to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s so-called “open-door” policy on refugees. “The days of uncontrolled immigration and illegal entry can’t continue just like that. Paris changes everything,” Söder said. But Söder’s hawkish hyperbole paints a misleading picture. Germany’s doors have not been nearly so open as his comment suggests. Nor, indeed, have the chancellor’s arms.
A little over a week ago, the German government introduced a series of policies intended to expedite the asylum process for refugees. This was not a gesture of haven-building; the proposals would enable the swift expulsion of thousands of people who have made a treacherous journey to Germany. “Today was a good day,” tweeted the chief of the German Chancellory, Peter Altmaier, after the policies were announced. “Those who are not persecuted and who come from a safe place, will have to leave our country faster in the future.”
For these words, Altmaier, Merkel’s most trusted adviser, received a swift skewering from social media and the German commentariat. Who, exactly, could remain in Germany under this standard? What counts as safe? The chancellory chief’s tweet could be dismissed as an incautious bungle. But his glee at swiftly expelling the not-quite-desperate-enough reflects the increasingly draconian and anti-immigrant realpolitik defining the German government’s stance on refugees. It’s high time to wipe the rose tint from the media’s lens on Germany as the shining bastion of Willkommenskultur.
Media paeans to Germany’s righteousness contain simple and consistent refrains. There are the numbers. Merkel’s government expects to register 800,000 refugees this year, part of the largest mass movement of dispossessed people since the Second World War. Germany has refused to name an upper limit on the number of asylum seekers it will let in. France and Britain, by contrast, have agreed only to take in a combined 44,000 refugees. It was a fraught task for EU leaders to agree to quotas for sharing 160,000 people seeking refuge in the union. So, yes, Germany the largest EU nation with 82 million citizens, is taking in the most new denizens. (It’s worth noting that Turkey expects 1.9 million refugees this year, 1.7 million of whom have come from Syria.)
Then, too, has been the elevation and near-deification of Merkel-as-savior, the Mutti. German weekly Der Spiegel depicted the chancellor as Mother Teresa in September. The Guardian’s Alberto Nardelli essentially claimed that Merkel is the lone defender of refugees in Europe. A November cover of The Economist proclaimed her “the indispensable European.” The story inside described a figure of unique moral fortitude, facing crueler European counterparts and members of her own party dedicated to dislodging her “mission” of “keeping Germany open and tolerant.” “She has boldly upheld European values, almost alone in her commitment to welcoming refugees,” The Economist states.