Some of the migrants on the border with Greece have been naming Chancellor Merkel, asking for her intervention for borders to open.
the politics of Germany
That has been a political curse, with the far-right seeing for the first time since the Second World War double digit scores in local elections, eroding the Chancellor’s Christian Democratic conservative base.
Alas, for the Chancellor, this personal connection with the migrants has been also a blessing. The UN Secretary, Ban Ki-Moon, praised the Chancellor’s “moral leadership” on Tuesday. For better or worse, this is not a legacy issue for the longest-serving Chancellor in German history. So it matters.
On Tuesday, Mrs Merkel’s Minister of Interior, De Maizìere, released numbers that indicate that the flow of refugees and arrivals to Germany is slowing down, significantly. Politically, that is significant. On Monday, the CDU woke up to a record surge for AfD in Hesse; and on Sunday Germans go to the polls for state assemblies in Magdeburg, Stuttgart and Mainz.
Politics matter. Losing control over the German political landscape – unthinkable few months ago – would mean that no European leader, not even Merkel, can play a decisive role in crisis management. Often in a crisis, the one thing worse than a bad policy, can be no policy at all.
European policy substance
Chancellor Merkel of Germany defended the EU-Turkey summit as an “important step forward” on refugee policy. The final agreement will be on March 17, but it is clear that Chancellor Merkel has some policy objectives of consequence.
The media focus was on the “illegal” returnees to Turkey. But, the most important outcome of the conference was placing on the table a legal avenue for immigration and obtaining asylum. “We need to try to open legal routes for them,” she said.
She also talked about “quotas.” This will set a ceiling on the refugees Europe is willing to take in, but will also make it clear that no member state can be a free-rider on freedom of movement.
Turkey: diplomatic tit-for-tat
The politics of the migration crisis will always have unpalatable aspects, perhaps inevitably.
But, Angela Merkel realizes that no political compromise will be worthwhile without effective policies, hence her assertion “It is a breakthrough if it becomes reality.”
Following the breakthrough of the refugee relocation program achieved in September – that has not gone through – it is clear that one needs to be cautious. When policy does not work, credibility is undermined, and then politics fail, suddenly and dramatically. Across Europe, the room for policy failure is smaller, from Austria to Sweden, and from Denmark to Poland.
The fine balance between politics and policies is a game in which the longevity of Mrs. Merkel indicates she handles masterfully. It is worth recalling that ALDE, in its own 7-point proposal of January 29, proposes a financially less ambitious package for Turkey, but entailed essentially the very elements agreed upon on Tuesday.
When it comes to policies, rebalancing interests is important. Turkey is eager to secure more financial support and visa-free travel for its own citizens. The bargain was tactfully referred to by Mrs Merkel as “balance of interests.”
Visegrad: policy blind
Of course, there are leaders for whom politics is the only thing that matters. Victor Orban and Roberto Fico were there to say that the emerging relocation program for Syrians could not be implemented for as long as their pending legal action against the European commission stands. And the Czech President, Milos Zeman, suggested that money given to Turkey was a waste, because Ankara cannot and will not do anything for the migrants. Perhaps all this would be an inconsequential footnote in the grand narrative of managing Europe’s greatest crisis in decades, if Slovakia was not bracing to assume the EU Presidency in June.
(SWR, AFP, Reuters, DW, BBC, Hungary Today, CTK)