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Cem Özdemir: 'Not everyone can stay'

The Greens pronounced their opposition to the tightening of asylum policy during their party congress. But in an interview with DW, party leader Cem Özdemir explained why not every asylum seeker can stay in Germany.

DW: Mr. Özdemir, you were just re-elected party chairman for another two years at your party congress in Halle - by a larger majority than the last vote. What goals do you have for your party?

Cem Özdemir: Of course I am happy about my result. But it isn't a victory for me personally, rather it is a victory for the entire federal executive board. The board did not lose a single vote here at the party congress. Every motion to change our proposal on asylum policy was voted down. That speaks to the great amount of trust that the party has in us.

Compare that to the abuse that the chancellor was subjected to at the Christian Social Union (CSU) party congress that was also held this weekend. One got the impression that party leader Horst Seehofer and his CSU have completely forgotten their manners. It cannot be that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the CSU continue to tear each other apart in the middle of this crisis situation. They should just tackle the problem.

Nevertheless, there were a number of controversies about asylum policy during your own congress. For instance the proposal put forward by the federal executive board stating that not every asylum seeker should be allowed to remain in Germany. Do the Greens have a clear position on this issue?

We clearly believe that Germany must live up to its obligation to take in refugees. But we also believe that people that come here for economic or social reasons may have justifications for doing so, but that asylum is not the right path for them. We need to find a different route using immigration law. And we also believe that not everyone can stay.

The governing coalition is currently discussing the tightening of asylum policy. Will the Greens, who are now in the governments of nine states (länder) in Germany, be on board in the Bundesrat (Federal Council)?

I would be happy if the federal government would just do its job. They need to finally make sure that the process is speeded up and that the people who are stuck on Europe's borders can be processed so that we know who is actually coming here. They should make sure that we know how many people are in Germany and who they are. We put forward a request in the Bundestag (Federal Parliament) on the topic, yet the federal interior minister has been unable to answer that question thus far. These things cannot be decided by the states. We need a federal government for that, and the administration finally needs to solve the problem.

Cem Özdemir with asylum seekers

Cem Özdemir with asylum seeker families in Heidenau

The administration is contemplating limiting families' abilities to join their relatives in Germany. What do you think of the idea?

I find it interesting that policy is once again directed against women in the question of family reunions. In the sense that women are supposed to simply remain in refugee camps - in Syria or neighboring countries - and that men here should not have the right to bring their wives and children here to join them. Not to mention the fact that the whole thing is a fake debate anyhow, because the problem doesn't exist - embassies and consulates are hopelessly overburdened at the moment. It's just a smokescreen to divert attention from finding real solutions to the problem. I'll say it again: It is time to finally speed up the process, and to make quick decisions. It would also be in the best interest of the refugees, so they would finally know where they stand.

The Greens applaud the fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to accept a limit on the number of refugees that Germany will accept. Is your party creeping closer to the CDU?

We don't make decisions about right and wrong based on who says what, but rather what is said. Again: I am truly shocked at just how brutal the behavior has become in relations between the CDU and CSU. I am happy that in Hesse, North-Rhine Westphalia and other CDU state associations there was clear criticism of the blunt behavior toward the chancellor and toward the Federal Republic of Germany. The entire world is watching the CSU party congress in Bavaria.

Angela Merkel says, "We can do it," when she speaks about the acceptance and integration of so many refugees. In light of the differences of opinion among the ruling coalition parties, do you really think that Germany can in fact do it?

If those who are interested in the actual issue, and not party politics, can keep cool heads, then yes, of course we can do it. But it will become increasingly difficult if more and more people begin acting panic-stricken. And the CSU has obviously decided to act panic-stricken. All the more reason to admire the chancellor's clarity.

Talk of deploying the army domestically has flared up in the aftermath of the Paris attacks. What do the Greens say about that?

We need a strong police force. We have to give the intelligence services the ability to do their job, in that they can exchange information, but with clear constitutional controls of course. What we don't need is the deployment of the army within Germany. And we certainly don't need endless legislative proposals that are supposed to convince us of some virtual security, but provide none that is real.

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