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Opinion

Opinion: Temporary asylum is the only way!

The German Chancellor says she expects refugees from the Syrian war to go home again at some point, just as the Bosnians did. It's the right message, says Volker Wagener - and one intended primarily for German ears.

Angela Merkel is on an uphill slog. She's taking many little steps to try to protect her open-borders' dogma. The demand for an upper limit on refugees is also taboo: she refuses to budge on either issue. However, aside from these "pure doctrines," the Chancellor has for some time now been playing the keyboard of corrective policy for all she's worth. What we hear from this is that she's trying to do both: insist on certain things, without abandoning others.

If the situation weren't so serious, it could be described as great theatre. Merkel's Protestant absoluteness, her unshakable adherence to the principle of open borders make her, in themselves, a politically isolated figure in Europe. No one in the EU is following her lead. No one is helping. And now even her once loyal political family, the sister conservative coalition of the CDU and CSU, is threatening to revolt.

Message with hidden meaning

However, the fact that Merkel is already reminding Syrian war refugees who have only just arrived that they will soon be returning home does not indicate a change of course. On the contrary: Merkel is doing a great deal to slow the influx of migrants, to organize their fairer distribution within Europe, and to deport both economic refugees and immigrants who have committed crimes. It's only with measures like these that she can advocate the open-border policy to the German people.

Wagener Volker Kommentarbild App

DW's Volker Wagener

Her reminder that, in the 1990s, around 70 percent of the refugees from former Yugoslavia returned to their homeland is a clear message to all those who are worried - but above all to worriers in her own political camp. Merkel needs time, and she'll only get it if she offers her critics some sort of positive prospects. There must be fewer refugees - she's working on that. Those who aren't covered by the Geneva Convention on Refugees or by German asylum laws must leave the country - already decided, it just has to be applied consistently. Now, those who will initially be allowed to stay will be greeted not as new citizens, but as temporary guests. The policy is clear: Merkel has to make that big heart a little smaller. If she doesn't, it may suffer a socio-political heart attack.

Decision time soon

There's a lot at stake over the coming weeks. With this major issue on the table, upcoming elections in three federal states are assuming the kind of importance normally accorded to national elections. Merkel's CDU is losing ground, its sister party, the CSU, has mutated into her biggest enemy, and her coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), is becoming increasingly verbally aggressive. Meanwhile, the EU is splitting off in all directions. And one thing is behind it all: Merkel's refugee policy. Without allies, the Chancellor cannot meet the historic challenge of mass migration. The two EU summits on 18./19.02.2016 and 17.03.2016 are probably the last chance to keep Europe's borders open. If not, the Schengen area will be history.

In order to salvage her main policy line of a Europe where the borders are open - especially in times of need - as well as the right to asylum with no upper limit, Merkel must slow the great influx of refugees through the daily work of diplomacy and the law, as well as with money. This is the only way she can deflect criticism within her own party, in the coalition, and above all from worried German citizens.

Not an end to the welcoming culture, but clarification

Green politicians have sharply criticised Merkel's indication that asylum in Germany also has a limit. This is misguided. It's not a question of burying the welcoming culture; it's a necessary response to realities that have grown alarming. This is how it is: in the beginning it was solely a matter of saving the war refugees, but now Germany's social peace is at stake, as is the cohesion of the European Union. Merkel's refugee policy results in some great and difficult demands being made. Sustaining these without risking the stability of Germany and Europe isa great political taskl - one Angela Merkel cannot remain master of for much longer. It is, however, still possible.

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