Opinion: Waiting for Merkel to change | Opinion | DW | 16.02.2016
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Opinion: Waiting for Merkel to change

A pan-European response to the refugee crisis must be found at the upcoming EU summit. Chancellor Merkel's current policy is not the much needed pan-European solution to the crisis, writes DW's Christoph Hasselbach.

Two approaches to the refugee crisis are repeatedly discussed as means of countering more radical demands: The causes of refugee flight must be combated and there can only be one European solution. Both statements are correct, but they often serve as an excuse to bypass unpleasant decisions. It will take decades before stability and prosperity is restored in all the countries from which people are fleeing war, persecution or lack of prospects – if it happens at all. Until now, all attempts at dealing with the current influx of refugees on a pan-European level have failed.

What is even worse is that divisions within the EU are more pronounced and entrenched than ever. The German chancellor stands alone with her comparatively liberal refugee policy. Most recently, even Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France emphasized that Merkel could not expect Paris to accept more refugees.

Lacking trust at home and abroad

In a recent survey, three quarters of Germans said they did not believe that the government has the refugee situation under control. Long before the poll, Merkel's open-door policy had met with disapproval from the rest of Europe – or had been viewed with utter dismay. While Merkel attempts to persuade the EU to find a mutual solution along her lines, she must realize that the authority she gained in the Europe debt crisis has now evaporated.

Hasselbach Christoph Kommentarbild App

DW's Christoph Hasselbach

A fair distribution of refugees? Many Europeans believe the mass movement of refugees really got underway because of Merkel's generous gesture. A set reception and quota system? In times of a permeable external EU border, this seems like a blank check for permanent immigration. And what about the EU plan to accept a set number of refugees from Turkey, while paying Turkey to keep the rest of them out? Erdogan has hinted that he may open the floodgates any time and demand almost any price from the Europeans. In the meantime, the willingness of most EU countries to voluntarily accept refugees – even if only very few – is less than minimal.

The only thing that connects all the EU states in this crisis is the desire to close off the borders. Changes are taking place on a national or even group level: Sweden has announced the end of its liberal entry policies; Austria has imposed a refugee cap and is consciously taking a domino effect on the Balkan route into account; the Visegrad Group of eastern European countries even wants to help non-EU Macedonia seal off the border to Greece because the Greeks have not halted the northward movement of refugees. This would amount to an exclusion of Greece from the Schengen Area, which has already been dealt a blow by the reinstatement of numerous border checks. Schengen is under acute threat of becoming a victim of European discord.

Solution needed before summer

The EU only has a few weeks to clearly reduce the number of refugees. That is how the summit will be judged. Merkel will not be able to defend her big-hearted refugee policy against the vast majority of Europeans. If she allows entry to Germany while the others deny it, then Germany will have to bear the entire refugee burden itself. However, the majority of Merkel's own countrymen will not allow this to happen.

Too much is at risk in European politics. The EU has a keen interest in mutually resolving this unprecedented crisis. However, Merkel's "we can do it" and "no cap on refugee numbers" cannot serve as a model. It is time for a new pragmatic approach.

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