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Opinion

Opinion: Refugee policy - get hold of your heart and use your head

German politics with a heart, was there ever such a thing? Yes, Merkel proved it. But now she has a problem. Pushback against Germany's "welcome culture" is growing. Now we need reason, says Volker Wagener.

Suddenly he's there - Wolfgang Schäuble. And he said something, too - on the topic of the year, refugees in Germany. He speaks in images, comparing the influx of asylum seekers to an avalanche. One that is growing and becoming impossible to control. For the longest time, Schäuble has remained suspiciously silent on the massive flood of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Now he has decided to speak, and that is more than just an alarm signal.

The Grand Seigneur of the CDU is an institution. Loyalty is one of his primary virtues. Although he hasn't always been treated sensitively by Angela Merkel over the years, he has remained her faithful co-pilot, helping her navigate day-to-day politics in Berlin. His avalanche statement could be the beginning of the end of the chancellor's "We can do it" policy. Schäuble has power. He can become the leader of Merkel's critics any time he wants. Especially since no one has challenged the chancellor thus far. Eyes and ears are fixed on him, and political events are moving quickly.

Merkel has trapped herself

Things have gone haywire in the coalition, and Chancellor Merkel is increasingly taking flak from her own party. Are we witnessing what the German daily newspaper "taz" called "Mutiny on the Merkel"?

Wagener Volker Kommentarbild App

DW's Volker Wagener

Essentially, this is all about revising Merkel's open door policy. To say as much, however, would be the political equivalent of an admission of failure by the chancellor. She cannot simply come out and say: "Fine, from now on there is a limit" - without risking her job.

So far, only Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has laid hands on Merkel's "Asylum knows no limits policy." He has done so with a great lack of skill, and in terms of public perceptions, in a way that truly endangers the political survival of the ruling coalition.

De Maiziere, who is actually a Merkel confidant, managed to go behind his boss's back twice within a matter of days in an attempt to correct her policies. First, announcing that Syrians would not be allowed to have relatives join them here; and second, that the Dublin Regulations would now once again apply to Syrians as well. Merkel has been duped and her Social Democrat coalition partners in the SPD are livid. Worst of all is the signal that this sends to the world: We can't do it! Thomas de Maiziere as Thomas the Miserable? That would be the wrong conclusion.

The interior minister is right. When an inquiry at the interior ministry reveals that it has absolutely no idea how many refugees are actually in reception centers around the country, that is proof that things have veered out of control. Now, de Maiziere is trying to get the ship back on course and get a handle on the situation, all the while showing a hidden toughness, and that is good.

Curb influx for the sake of inner peace

The point is this: Welcoming is an opening gesture, a start. In the long run, refugee support for, not to mention the successful integration of, more than a million people would be impossible. Municipalities could probably deal with the logistic and bureaucratic burden, but the apprehensive, despondent, gut of German society does not want any social experiments. The government should not give them anything to latch onto, any excuse to come together and trumpet anti-foreigner sentiments throughout the land. It is better to take care of those who are already here well, than to treat more poorly.

One thing is certain: Refugee policy will make or break Merkel's chancellorship. Currently, she is poised between Nobel Peace Prize and ignominious resignation. Between beatification and disgrace. The latter would not only be bad for her and for Germany's image abroad. It would also be a mid-sized social catastrophe at home if we were to allow our hearts to race ahead of our heads. The trademark of our community is consensus. It should not be overstrained. Angela Merkel has to find a way to correct her own policies, otherwise someone else will. Someone, like Wolfgang Schäuble.

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