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Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - PRESSURE TACTIC
Merkel's refugee U-turn:BLUNDER OR PRESSURE TACTIC?
BY Hui min neo
BERLIN, Germany: Just two weeks ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel won praise from
Washington to Wellington for her bold decision to throw open Germany's doors to
refugees fleeing Syria's brutal civil war.
But just as suddenly, Berlin announced a complete U-turn, saying Sunday it was
reinstating border controls and reintroducing asylum rules that it had essentially waived
The authorities, admitting that capacity had been stretched to the limit by the tens of
thousands of new arrivals, called for a return to a more orderly situation.
Analysts on Monday derided the abrupt move, with the left-leaning Tageszeitung calling
it an "absurd about-turn", and conservative Die Welt questioning whether "the German
refugee policy had really been well thought through".
"Angela Merkel risks undoing the very impression she has been basking in for the past
few days — of an unbureaucratic, caring Germany, showing up the restrictive policies of
other EU countries," Tageszeitung wrote.
Henri Guaino, a former aide of ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy, also laid into
Merkel, criticising her plan to welcome 800,000 refugees.
"She did that without consulting her partners, without consulting her neighbours, without
worrying about the consequences," he said.
For about two weeks, Merkel and her allies had boldly insisted that they could keep the
crisis under control.
Riding on a wave of euphoria that also helped mobilise thousands of volunteers to join in
the country's biggest post-war refugee relief effort, cabinet ministers sang the same tune.
But reality on the ground soon caught up.
Local authorities particularly in the prosperous and conservative southern region of
Bavaria have been complaining for months that they were struggling to handle the record
inflow of migrants.
When the steady influx suddenly turned into a huge wave of 20,000 people arriving over
a weekend in the regional capital Munich, an open rebellion erupted within Merkel's own
conservative camp, with her Bavarian allies at the CSU calling her policy a monumental
The head of the CSU, Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer, said opening German
borders to unprecedented numbers of migrants "was a mistake that will occupy us for a
"We are getting ourselves into an emergency situation we soon won't be able to control,"
he told news weekly Der Spiegel.
Seehofer went as far as to invite Hungary's controversial Prime Minister Viktor Orban,
who has come under fire over what activists described as inhumane treatment of refugees,
to his party's upcoming congress to "jointly search for a solution".
Questions also arose over the identities of migrants flowing into the country, with the
CSU's vice president Hans-Peter Friedrich saying it was "completely irresponsible to
allow thousands of people to enter without checking and registering them, and one can't
really estimate how many IS fighters or Islamists are among them."
"For the chancellor, this is a miscalculation of the kind she has not experienced in the last
10 years," wrote Sueddeutsche Zeitung's analyst Stefan Kornelius.
Faced with the mounting backlash, Merkel despatched her interior minister to announce
the dramatic U-turn on Sunday.
"No one can fault Germany with regards to its welcoming culture," said Thomas de
Maiziere hours after he announced the reinstated passport controls.
But "we cannot have the situation where someone who is supposed to be taken in by a
neighbouring state of Germany says, 'I prefer to go to Germany'.
"Sharing means sharing. And that must be implemented," the minister said in an
interview with public television ARD.
The Berliner Zeitung however was more forgiving, saying that even Merkel's opponents
had no solution for the refugee crisis.
"Let's use the time gained to better organise the reception of refugees, and to define
Germany's humanitarian possibilities and limits — and not for a pointless 'I told you so'
debate," it said.
Seen from the outside, however, the change appeared to be a tactic to pressure other
European allies to share the refugee burden fairly.
Switzerland's TagesAnzeiger said in its editorial that it is a "signal for the EU ... to come
to a fair distribution of refugees".
"Germany will not and cannot solve the refugee crisis alone." — AFP