The liberal party head has attacked Angela Merkel's refugee policy in an interview with DW, claiming that it takes too long to process asylum applications. Instead, he is campaigning for a "four-door" immigration policy.
"I don't think we can maintain a military deployment in Afghanistan over the long term," Christian Lindner, the chairman of Germany's Free Democrats (FDP), said in an interview with DW editor-in-chief Ines Pohl and reporter Jaafar Abdul-Karim. The laissez-faire liberal party's top candidate in the September 24 Bundestag elections justified his stance by asserting that the goals already set have not been achieved. Perhaps the goal of making Afghanistan a market-based democracy in the planned time frame may have been too ambitious, he said.
Led by the United States, the international military mission has run for nearly 16 years now. On Monday, US President Donald Trump announced that the US would send more troops to Afghanistan. "I do not believe such a deployment would be opportune for the Bundeswehr," Lindner told DW.
The 38-year-old Lindner did not mince words on other controversial matters. "All economic cooperation between Germany and Turkey should be frozen," he said for just one example. Lindner was referring to a series of events since the failed coup in July 2016 that have resulted in several thousand people being imprisoned and press freedoms severely restricted in Turkey. Just recently, the 60-year-old writer Dogan Akhanli, who has dual German citizenship and lives in Cologne, was temporarily detained by Spanish police after Turkey issued an Interpol arrest warrant. Lindner specifically proposed to not grant any export guarantees and not hold any talks about duty exemption. "We at least owe the Turkish opposition that," he said.
'Who can come'
Lindner harshly criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy. He said the asylum application process was taking too long and suggested a new category of temporary humanitarian protection in order to speed it up. Refugees would be granted a residence permit and have immediate access to the labor market. "But residence permits are strictly limited in duration," he said. "When peace returns to their countries of origin, they do as a rule have to leave Germany."
Linder's proposals are part of his vision of future immigration policy. The FDP chairman told DW that Germany is a country of immigration - "but we have to clearly define the ways of entering Germany." Lindner spoke of four doors. "The first door is called asylum," what he said was a basic individual right for which there should not be any restrictions, other than the face that it would apply to very few people "who are really persons persecuted as individuals."
Lindner's second door is "refugee." This label refers to people who are fleeing war and violence - not individual persecution. DW's Pohl wanted to know whether there would be a limit on the number of refugees allowed into Germany. "There is a cap, which is determined by capacities and how you can meet the people's needs," Lindner replied. However, the FDP boss did not want to state any figures before the elections.
The third door in his future immigration policy is labeled "qualified immigration," which is a targeted selection of people who are allowed to enter Germany. "We decide who can come, depending on language skills, qualifications, and so on and so forth," Lindner said. The fourth and last door stays closed, he said. Those who are not entitled to asylum, are not refugees or are not "qualified" immigrants "cannot come to Germany, and cannot stay here."
Read more: All about Germany's liberals, the FDP
The elections and subsequent coalition negotiations will obviously determine whether Lindner's FDP can implement its ideas in a future German government. At the moment, polls have the FDP at 8 percent - the same as the Greens and the right-wing Alternative for Germany. The Left party is at 9 percent. The battle for third place in the Bundestag is suspenseful at the moment, as none of the parties have the necessary support to form a coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats and its allied Bavarian faction, the Christian Social Union. In recent weeks, Lindner has often indicated that he could imagine a prominent role in the opposition, and, if possible, as opposition leader.
The FDP does not currently sit in the German Bundestag. If the party wins enough seats to enter parliament again, and even ends up at the coalition bargaining table after September 24, Lindner would like to return to the "tradition of German detente."
Lindner also took time to clarify controversial remarks he had made about Russia's annexation of Crimea. "I’m afraid that for the time being, Crimea must be looked at as a permanent provisional situation," he had told the daily Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, thus drawing much criticism in Germany - but approval from Russia.
Lindner defended his approach to DW. He acknowledged that Russia's annexation of Crimea had violated international law. But he also said German detente policy was "always a two-pronged approach: toughness and willingness to talk."
The last part of the interview had a much lighter tone, with Lindner being asked which of the other parties' top candidates he would take to a deserted island. The head of the FDP chose the Green Party's Cem Ozdemir. Like Lindner, Ozdemir was awarded a (satirical) medal "Knight Against Dead Seriousness" by Aachen's Carnival Association, so Lindner knows that Ozdemir has a sense of humor. "And we would at least have something to laugh about - even if it were only about each other," he quipped.