Migration takes center stage in Davos | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 20.01.2016
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Migration takes center stage in Davos

Europe's refugee crisis has been a hot topic in Davos, where German President Joachim Gauck hinted at a shift in Germany's open-door policy. He said limiting refugee numbers could be necessary and not 'per se unethical.'

Germany's president is well aware that his office is largely ceremonial and does not come with real power. So it was to be expected that his speech in Davos, entitled "Hoping for Prosperity: Reflections on Flight and Migration to Europe," was more an attempt to explain the current situation than announce something new.

But with Chancellor Angela Merkel under increased pressure to limit the influx of migrants to Germany, Gauck did prepare the ground for just that.

"A strategy to limit immigration can be politically and morally necessary, to ensure the government does not lose its power to act, and to ensure that the majority of the population do not lose their willingness to welcome the refugees in a humane way," Gauck said in Davos. "Thus, a limit is not per se unethical, because it helps to maintain acceptance of migrants."

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Gauck: German government looking to reduce number of refugees

But Gauck steered clear of detailing when and how immigration will be limited. "The president of Germany always has to be careful not to interfere with operational politics," he said. "Let me just say that we can expect different measures of control and limitation to come into effect this year."

Doing Merkel's job

Not only did Gauck announce a possible change in the stance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he also took it upon himself to blast Merkel's most vociferous critics in the formerly Communist capitals of eastern Europe, such as Warsaw and Budapest.

"I have a hard time understanding that refugees are being denied support by countries whose own citizens received support when they were persecuted for political reasons," Gauck said. "And I have a hard time understanding why nationalism is being hailed as a solution when in fact globalisation increases our interdependence."

Gauck ended with a plea to try to find common solutions in Europe, without elaborating further.

"The great creation of Europe has brought peace and prosperity," he said. "Do we really want to risk that it all breaks apart? Nobody can want that."

Other voices on refugees

Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Zurich-based financial services firm Credit Suisse, said that while migration often involved human tragedies, it was just "a symptom of deeper problems." The businessman used to be a politician in his native Cote d'Ivoire before the government was toppled by a coup d'etat in 1999.

"The Arab Spring was born from demography and a lack of jobs," Thiam said before defending the focus on technology during this year's World Economic Forum (WEF). "Technology is a big part of the answer because it can empower people who were made powerless to claim that power back."

amira yahyaoui

Amira Yahyaoui: Migration is an "important test for humanity"

Amira Yahyaoui, founder of a non-profit organisation that aims to advance democracy in her native Tunisia, and, like Thiam, a co-chair of this year's WEF, believes that the refugee issue will be central to the hundreds of discussions in Davos. "This is an important test for humanity. How can we talk about equality in Germany - and at the same time think about closing the borders because there are too many migrants?"

In contrast, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, was quite impressed by her visit to Germany earlier this week. "We are seeing incredible things with the refugee crisis," Sandberg said, citing Germans' use of Facebook groups to coordinate their volunteerism. These personal stories show, according to Sandberg, "that our goodness triumphs over our fears."

This may be true. But German President Gauck's speech in Davos also showed that goodness in politics has its limits.

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