Opinion: Dismantling the interior minister | Opinion | DW | 07.10.2015
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Opinion: Dismantling the interior minister

In the refugee crisis, the German interior minister gives the impression of lagging behind developments. But now, by relieving him the task, Angela Merkel has increased the risk to herself, says DW's Mathias Bölinger.

Apparently, the chancellor has had enough. She has taken away Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere's responsibilities for refugee policy, moving them to her own office and in the hands of Peter Altmaier, who heads the Chancellor's Office.

With her by now famous words, "We can do this", Angela Merkel made refugee policies an executive concern.

Not the way to go

The chancellor received praise from all over the world for her move. Suddenly, many saw a "mom with a heart" replace the "Iron Chancellor" who had brought Greece to its knees. But it was up to others to solve the immense challenge: local authorities, the federal states and her Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

Everything is in short supply, including housing, local officials to receive the applications and administrators to handle them. Violence is on the rise in overcrowded refugee shelters, the situation at the registration centers for refugees is dramatic. It's clear that this is not the way to go.

Minister Maiziere, in particular, gave the impression of being a step behind the events. First, he exchanged the head of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).

DW Mathias Bölinger

DW's Mathias Bölinger

Maiziere appointed a man she refered to as the country's best office manager: Frank-Jürgen Weise, Germany's top labor official. Weise, however, hasn't relinquished his previous position.

Maiziere was forced to borrow his top manager from the labor minister, part-time only. Perhaps the new head of the BAMF really is a wizard who can juggle the gigantic Federal Employment Agency along with the BAMF, a major construction site. It's more likely, however, that Maiziere had so few options that he had to accept the conditions.

Unable to cope

No one can expect Germany to handle this huge task smoothly - which makes it even more important for the government to show that it's doing what it can to take charge of the crisis. The interior minister did not give that impression. When reports about violence in the overcrowded shelters started emerging, he stood in front of the TV cameras, lamenting a lack of a welcoming attitude toward refugees in Germany. Trying to move to the lead of populist antipathy just came across as desperate. Maiziere looked like an overtaxed teacher complaining about his students' lack of respect.

By saying "We can do this", Angela Merkel took a risk - which is unusual for her. Those words turned handling a crisis into her very own challenge. It seems that she has realized that it isn't enough to leave the answer to the crisis to her interior minister. Her presidential style is at its limits. The chancellor could have dismissed Maiziere, a path she chose in similar situations. Instead, she chose to leave him in office and make tackling the crisis top priority. By doing so, she upped her own ante.

If she manages to get a grip on the crisis, her "we can do this" will go down in history. If she doesn't, there is no one else who she can leave standing in the rain, but herself.

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