Opinion: The welcome realists | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.04.2017
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Opinion: The welcome realists

A new study has found that Germany's immigrant "Welcome Culture" is still astonishingly stable. But DW editor Christoph Hasselbach believes the numbers tell a different story as well.

"I find it remarkable just how robust Germany's 'Welcome Culture' is after two years of record-setting refugee immigration," Ulrich Kober, immigration expert at the Bertelsmann Foundation, told DW. Indeed, some 59 percent of those polled say that refugees are welcome here. Only one-third say that Germany's "Welcome Culture" no longer exists.

The trick behind the question is that interviewees are asked how they think society is dealing with immigrants, not how individuals themselves feel about immigrants; hence the astonishingly high numbers. But the study also provides the answer to the personal opinion question. And those numbers paint an entirely different picture: Some 54 percent of those polled are of the opinion that the admission of refugees has strained society, pushing it to the breaking point. When Bertelsmann asked that same question two years ago, only 40 percent said that point had been reached - or depending on one's own point of view, one might say 40 percent already thought the tipping point had been reached before the greatest influx even began.

No illusions

Citizens polled in 2015 and 2017 had no illusions about the consequences of immigration: Today, 79 percent foresee problems for the welfare state, and two years ago that number was 64 percent. The Ministry of Finance confirms their suspicions: Last year the government spent at least 20 billion euros ($21 billion) addressing the refugee crisis; the same amount is forecast for this year (some estimates are much higher still). One could have funded a lot more aid in countries of origin for the same amount of money, and one also would not have had to deal with the long-term difficulties that go with integration.

Christoph Hasselbach (DW/M.Müller)

DW's Christoph Hasselbach

Today, some 72 percent of respondents expect conflicts between immigrants and locals - no surprise in the wake of the Berlin Christmas market attack, and the New Year's Eve fiasco in Cologne; but in 2015, 64 percent had already expected trouble. In 2015, 52 percent were convinced that immigration would exacerbate housing shortages in German cities; now 65 percent believe so. Skepticism about the possible consequences of immigration was already widespread before the mass influx even began, and that skepticism has been confirmed in large part.

Merkel's policies a huge mistake

It is also telling that a full 81 percent of those polled were of the opinion that other EU countries should follow Germany's example and take in more refugees. That is understandable, but it isn't going to happen. Because it is also understandable that other countries want to avoid taking any blame for Angela Merkel's misguided "Welcome Culture."

The policy was misguided in that it generally welcomed anyone who wanted to enter the country. For months, authorities avoided questions about country of origin and reasons for fleeing, thus making no differentiation between those people seeking asylum and those who were purely economic immigrants - let alone violent Islamists.

Today Merkel is calling for a "national effort" when it comes to deporting immigrants with no right to asylum. So now the nation is supposed to step in and solve an almost intractable problem? A problem that it would not have had in the first place, had it not been for Merkel's "Welcome Culture!" Her "We can do this" and "there is no limit" slogans from a year-and-a-half ago are intrinsically linked to her new calls for the "national effort" required to deal with the consequences thereof.

Germans were never asked if they wanted to partake in this massive experiment. And Germany was not legally obliged to open its borders. Angela Merkel greatly strained the goodwill of her own people by doing so. If she wants to remain in favor - the Bertelsmann study shows - she can never do anything like that again.         

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