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Germany, you can do this!

Kommentarfoto Kay-Alexander Scholz Hauptstadtstudio
Kay-Alexander Scholz
September 10, 2015

More than anything, it was Angela Merkel's decision for Germany to welcome thousands of refugees, and now there is no going back. The chancellor needs to remain steadfast in her decision, says DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz.

Angela Merkel in Berlin Besuch Flüchtlingsunterkunft Registrierungszentrum Selfie mit Flüchtlingen Deutschland
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Bernd von Jutrczenka

Just a few nights ago I couldn't sleep, I was scared that Germany would not be able to handle the refugee crisis. I saw bouquets of flowers at train stations, but no political leadership. A welcoming society is important, no doubt; but dealing with refugees isn't simply an emotional exercise, it is also tough-as-nails politics.

Fortunately, Chancellor Angela Merkel sees things that way too - and she has shown great courage in engaging in that kind of politics. She opened Germany's borders to refugees and forced the entire continent to confront the suffering of people living at Europe's doorstep. Now there is no going back - at most there could be a compromise between cash and a quota. What a coup!

Merkel sticks to her guns

In a parliamentary debate in Germany's lower house, the Bundestag, she made it clear that she does not intend to back down, but rather push forward and act as creatively as possible. The situation calls for this kind of leadership. It also demands a well functioning operative base, especially on the state level. North-Rhine Westphalia's Premier Hannelore "Heart and Soul" Kraft, and her Bavarian counterpart, Horst "I Couldn't Care Less" Seehofer are showing others how it is done. Breaking free of political party constraints is the order of the day.

There's another reason to be optimistic: Germany is freeing itself from its traditionally uptight debate culture. So far, too little has been asked about what comes after the "welcome," or what fears grip the average German citizen. In the Bundestag debate, Christian Social Union (CSU) state leader Gerda Hasselfeldt stressed that citizens have to be included in the process. Parties have to be cognizant of the realities of the situation and address those realities. The refugee crisis demands a nuanced debate and there can be no taboos. Right on, Ms. Hasselfeldt! That is, as you so correctly state, the best medicine against radical right-wing ideology.

And it is just as accurate when Green party parliamentary leader Kathrin Göring-Eckhardt says we immediately need to begin discussing the socially relevant questions of how Germany intends to deal with the beliefs and ideas of large numbers of Muslim refugees whose ideals don't always match "ours." How can we convey what our constitution means? We must have a discussion about our own values and laws if we want to lead others.

Kay-Alexander Scholz
Kay-Alexander Scholz reports for DW from BerlinImage: DW/S. Eichberg

Openly address mistakes as well

The Green politician's appeal for openly addressing mistakes is also worth its weight in gold. In the past, Germany has made a lot of mistakes when it comes to dealing with refugees. For instance, a major problem right now is that there are simply too few civil servants to process asylum applications. This failure has to be addressed publicly - not to one-up political opponents, but to find a quick solution to the problem.

It is also a relief that, despite tens of thousands of refugees arriving in Germany, our political system is astonishingly stable. In other European states populist parties of the periphery are limiting the scope of politicians' options. That is not the case in Germany. So far, our homegrown version of right-wing populism, "Alternative for Germany," has been unable to influence the refugee debate.

Praise from abroad

And then there is the support coming in from abroad. Many foreign newspaper editorials have praised Germany for its actions and its courage. While some here have tended to fall into the morass of typical "German Angst," others see a great moral leap to higher ground, and reason for increased confidence in Merkel's leadership.

As difficult as the situation currently is, there are many reasons to believe that Germany can handle it. Perhaps when we look back at the situation, we'll even be able to say that the refugee crisis made Germany a better place.

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