On this week's Conflict Zone, Cem Özdemir, co-leader of the Green Party in Germany, discusses Angela Merkel's open door migrant policy and why he believes her refugee deal with Turkey was a mistake.
Germany has been at the forefront of an open door migrant policy, taking in more than one million asylum seekers last year. But many have criticized the chancellor's "welcoming culture" for drawing in too many migrants to Germany and Europe. Merkel's support within her own party is wavering and some analysts blame her open door policy for her CDU party's recent slide in the polls.
Ironically, some of Merkel's strongest political support comes from the opposition Green Party. They backed the open door policy on migrants right from the start.
In an exclusive interview with DW's Conflict Zone, Green Party Co-Leader, Cem Özdemir, said he doesn't regret supporting Merkel in the migrant crisis, despite everything that's happened since: images of drowning refugees, fierce border clashes, and the closure of borders in more than 10 EU member states, which is threatening the future of the passport-free Schengen Zone.
Too late for a European solution?
In the interview, Özdemir called on all EU member states to share responsibility for the refugee crisis. "I think this is a European challenge and there needs to be a European answer."
"Some countries, like Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries, have been willing to share the refugees, but others, like some Eastern European countries, have refused," Özdemir said. "I think they have to at least pay for it, because there cannot be a kind of job sharing where you take all the benefits from the European Union, but when it comes to responsibilities you refuse that."
Özdemir admitted that Germany made a mistake by not advocating a European solution from the beginning. He said it also erred in failing to offer help to Greece and Italy when refugees started heading to these countries at the beginning of the refugee crisis years ago.
"When our Italian and Greek colleagues asked us for help and asked for a European solution, it was the German government that said, well, this is a national problem of Italy and Greece and it's not a European problem. So we were not always the most welcoming country for European solutions," he said, adding that now that Germany needs the help of its neighboring countries, they understandably remind Germany of its reaction years ago.
"If you want the others to behave European, you yourself should behave European," Özdemir said.
Migrant deal with Turkey one of Merkel's 'biggest mistakes'
The German government is currently under a lot of pressure to significantly reduce the number of refugees coming to Germany. That's why Chancellor Angela Merkel made a deal with Turkey, the most significant transit country for migrants, to take in refugees deported from Europe.
Özdemir criticized Merkel for this 6 billion-euro deal. "Merkel's Turkey policy may be one of the biggest defeats of her chancellery," he said.
"When she took over power from us in 2005, she stopped EU negotiations with Turkey in a time when Turkey was moving towards reform in the right direction. She rediscovered Turkey at a time when she needed Turkey because of the refugee crisis. That's a big mistake."
Özdemir stressed the fact that Turkey still violates human rights and oppresses critical voices, for instance during the last election, which he calls "not the kind of fair election we would have in Europe."
"I do not ask Mrs. Merkel to put herself in chains in Ankara and protest against human rights abuses," Özdemir said. "What I want Merkel to do is once she meets Mr. Erdogan to at least spend 5 or 10 minutes to meet some of the opposition leaders as well."
Özdemir also stressed the importance of discussing the root causes of the refugee crisis.
"As long as we don't talk about root causes, why people leave their countries, nothing will change. We will make deals with Turkey and they will search for other ways," he said.
"We're half a billion people in the European Union. If we unite and fight against root causes, if we make something like a Marshall Plan for Northern Africa, we can make a difference. That's what I want."
Recognizing the Armenian Genocide
Another issue close to Özdemir's heart was getting the Armenian Genocide recognized as such. Between 1915 and 1917, some 1.5 million members of the Armenian minority community were killed by Ottoman rulers in what is present-day Turkey. But until today, Turkey refuses to call the massacre a genocide and says just as many Turks died during the same period.
So far, Germany hasn't officially referred to the killings as genocide either. German President Joachim Gauck and Bundestag President Norbert Lammert have both used the term to describe the killings, but so far there has been no parliamentary resolution that includes the official term "genocide."
Protesters across the world commemorated the 100th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire
That's why, ahead of the EU-Turkey summit at the end of February, the Greens put before parliament a resolution which officially describes the massacre of the Armenian people 100 years ago as genocide. But so far, the bill hasn't passed.
When Conflict Zone's host Tim Sebastian criticized Özdemir for having made a deal with the CDU to delay the resolution because it would have harmed the refugee deal discussed at the EU-Turkey summit in March, Özdemir disagreed.
"I made a deal with the Christian Democrats that we put it as a joint motion to the floor, to the Bundestag," he said. "And on June 2, after 101 years of neglecting the Armenian Genocide, the German Bundestag will make the decision that it was genocide, that Germany had a responsibility because we were an ally of the Ottoman Empire."
Integrating Muslim refugees in Germany
Özdemir, who was born in Germany to Turkish parents and became the first-ever member of German parliament of Turkish decent, said he's confident that Germany will manage to integrate the new refugees and migrants.
"The generation of my parents was successfully integrated and now it's another challenge," he said. "Making a minority part of the mainstream society is one of the most complicated things in the world and we're talking about a country that doesn't have a lot of experience. We're not a classical country of immigration. Germany is a new country of immigration. So it's learning by doing. (…) But I'm not a pessimist. At the end of the day this country will manage it and will become stronger."
When Tim Sebastian reminded him of the rise in far-right hate crimes in Germany and the fact that there have been more than 1200 attacks on refugee shelters, Özdemir said that unfortunately some state governments and the national government have failed to speak out clearly against racism.
"If you neglect that you have an illness, if you neglect that you have a problem, it's hard to fight against it," he said.
Özdemir also warned parties like the Social and Christian Democrats from mirroring the mindset of far-right political groups in a bid to get more votes. He said it only serves to drive citizens towards more extreme parties. Özdemir took the first round of the presidential elections in Austria as an example, where the far-right Austrian Freedom Party stormed to a huge win.
"If you copy the slogans of the right wing, you make them stronger," he said.
After the New Year's Eve attacks against women in Cologne, Özdemir told German daily Hamburger Morgenpost that "such acts could certainly have something to do with patriarchal culture and a sexist interpretation of Islam."
Asked by Tim Sebastian how Germany is supposed to integrate and assimilate people with such a sexist interpretation of Islam, Özdemir said that the majority of Muslims don't agree with this interpretation. "The Islam that I was taught by my parents is a different Islam: It's an Islam of tolerance, it's an Islam of living together with different cultures."
You can watch the full show on April 27 at 17:30 UTC and online on demand.