New book reveals behind the scenes how Merkel dealt with refugee crisis | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.04.2017

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New book reveals behind the scenes how Merkel dealt with refugee crisis

In 2015, the German government was faced with a challenge to take in almost 900,000 refugees. A new book reveals the reasoning behind the political decisions made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the crisis.

Back during 2015, when hundreds of thousands of people from Africa, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries were pouring into Germany, the authority of Angela Merkel - until then, a respected politician across party lines - was shaken. Doubt grew considerably towards the government's rationality behind decisions dealing with the  crisis. This paved the way for the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to rise, where it won seats in regional parliaments, as well as the notion that it could permanently establish itself as a far-right party. This is even as surveys now show support for the AfD to be waning. 

Robin Alexander, an editor for the "die Welt” newspaper, has presented a new book on the topic, called "Die Getriebenen. Merkel und die Flüchtlingspolitik," roughly translated as "The Driven Ones: Merkel and Refugee Policy, a Report from the Insides of Power."

The book has rocketed to number one on the bestseller lists in Germany.  It has struck a nerve in political discussions and reflects the mood of parts of the country. The right is reading it as way to reckon with Merkel's refugee policy. The liberal center is reading with amazement and probably also political dismay.

A decision made out of fear?

Alexander has meticuously researched the refugee crisis and put together what he found out from the inner corridors of power. A brief summary: at the beginning there was a decision to open the borders as thousands of refugees in Hungary wanted to go to Germany, although there was already an order to close the borders.  Merkel and her ministers did not dare to go with the original orders, as they feared the images of rejected refugees could harm them politically. Merkel also didn't dare to say that that this was an exceptional decision, because the Germans' readiness to warmly receive the refugees had really surprised her. Instead, she swam on the wave of the "welcome culture." She did not point out that this was an emergency decision and as a result, more and more came. Uncontrolled. Uncoordinated. Unregistered. The refugee policy got out of hand, even though authorities in the local areas had for months tried to do something extraordinary.

The book gives a detailed description of the political impasses which Angela Merkel maneuvered around. It describes the machine room of power in which Interior Minister Thomas de Maziere, Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble and the active Merkel-follower, chief of the Federal Chancellery, Peter Altmeier bustled.  Alexander takes us to secret duels of power behind closed doors, as loyal and critical Schäuble pulled strings to restore the sovereignty to the ministry.   

Merkel at the roulette table

Above all, Alexander shows how Merkel would change her course in terms of content but her rhetoric would not. "The borders are open," she said, while the borders closed. "We remain an open country," while fewer and fewer refugees came to Germany. "We remain steadfast in believing that refugees should be helped – with no limits," while the Balkan route was defacto closed in other countries. He describes how Merkel isolated herself in the EU and how she entered the EU-Turkey deal like playing a last bet at a roulette table.

Two politicians play a special role in Alexander's book, the first being head of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer, who had tried to undermine Merkel at the beginning of the refugee crisis. He was the first critic of her policy, while in parliament an all-party coalition was backing her up without being asked to do so.

The other politician mentioned is the young Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz, who challenged Merkel as he closed Austria's borders.

The book describes an important point of history and is a extraordinary and detailed report.  It's written splendidly and reads like a criminal novel. It is a deduction of Merkel's policies. The "Report From the Insides of Power” is in reality a report from the depths of helplessness, where things are planned but decided too little and too late. Merkel's refugee policy is not represented as a a masterpiece of heartfelt politics but as a developing and out-of-hand disaster. The publication has already become a standard reference book.      

Robin Alexander: Die Getriebenen. Merkel und die Flüchtlingspolitik. Report aus dem Inneren der Macht. Siedler Publishing. 19,90 Euros.