Unchecked migration and Merkel’s mea culpa
Angela Merkel is apologizing. Not for her policies, but for a whole lot of other things. She’s sorry for losing control of the refugee crisis, sorry for not preparing enough, sorry for her party’s losses in Germany.
After staggering losses of social Democrats to far right parties both in and around Germany, the usually Teutonically stoic Chancellor is sorry, but also not really sorry. Not once did she mention that her policies were inherently flawed, and that her blatant disregard of history has resulted in the highest nativist backlash and destabilization in European societies since the 1930s.
In a press conference Merkel said that she and her government made mistakes in how they handled their refugee policy.
Over a million migrants turned up because of Germany’s liberal “open door” policy, most of them male, able bodied, (and a lot of them not even from war zones). The German chancellor’s call of “we can manage this” prompted thousands to cross the freezing Mediterranean, paying their life savings to people smugglers in the Turkish and Greek islands, to reach Europe. Hundreds died in the process due to overcrowded boats and faulty life jackets. ISIS, taking advantage of this chaos, embedded their suicide bombers, who posed as refugees, to wreck havoc in the European mainland. People from as far as South Africa, Ivory Coast and Pakistan dispatched for Europe.
“For some time, we didn’t have enough control,” Merkel was quoted, “no one wants a repeat of last year’s situation, including me.”
Imagine the situation in Europe. Two years ago, attacks against migrant shelters in Germany were numbered at 199, this year they have already exceeded 700. The Alternative for Germany — the AFD — has released a manifesto declaring Islam incompatible with the West and called to ban minarets, mosques and the burqa. Their language has bordered on incitement to violence. In France and Italy the far right are also surging. In Austria and the Netherlands they might even win, which might result in “Auxit” and further destabilization of Europe. The V4 countries of Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary have flatly refused Brussels’ orders to accept and integrate migrants. In short, Europe is in total chaos.
In the words of Jean Claude Juncker, it is an existential crisis for the EU. Yet he cannot bring himself to blame his own institution or find Merkel’s policies to be even partly responsible.
EU liberals, guided by Merkel, imposed these liberal policies, without any democratic will. There was no mandate, no vote, no referendum about refugee and migration policies, or about foreign and economic policies. As John Mearsheimer once said, this is a liberal hegemony. It is social restructuring decided and implemented by the Byzantine behemoth known as the EU.
As per United Nations reports, refugees coming from war zones are allowed to apply for asylum in the first safe country. This means that Italy, Greece and Turkey would have to face their largest influx of migration since the 1940s. However, due to Merkel’s open door call, migrants left Italy and Greece and started moving north, as millions of others joined from parts of the globe where there is no war. While it is understandable that humans look for a better life and jobs, if millions start to move then it looks frightfully similar to an invasion. Merkel and her fellow liberals on both sides of the Atlantic, never understood or cared about structural and cultural differences, not just between Europe and the Middle East, but also within Europe, between the comparatively liberal West and North regions, and the more insulated Socio-Conservative East and Central Europe.
The question of realism and ‘amorality’ in foreign policy
For the last quarter century, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world order that we are in was considered ultimate and permanent, sort of like an “end of history”. Liberal order, and social-democratic liberalism were considered the ultimate evolutionary stage of society and mankind. States will stop acting in their self interest, cultures will be both cosmopolitan and homogenous, tribalism and nationalism will disappear and society will be benevolent. In the least surprising twist of irony, none of that happened.
States continued to act according to their self interest, either balancing against or bandwagoning with greater powers. The great powers are arguably back in their rivalry and carving out their own sphere of interests, and sometimes “buckpassing” security responsibility of geopolitically cancerous zones (read Middle East) to rival powers. Nationalism and tribalism have all increased and will continue to increase, as a mythical serpentine Ouroboros feeding in itself. The last quarter century therefore looks like a short interbellum, as often is the case, in the great arc of history.
Liberals didn’t understand and still fail to grasp this long view. You often see Argumenta Ad Passiones about saving human lives and about making society benevolent. Not only are these cries of morality often naïve and ahistoric, they disregard the fact that morality does not matter in polity — only interests matter. For all the liberal talk of respecting individual cultural differences, they are myopic about the cultural difference of millions of people heading their way and the difficulty in resettlement and integration, and the inevitable societal backlash. For all the lament about the lack of interventions in faraway lands, where the West has no discernible geopolitical interest, liberals often fall prey to monadic analysis where the resolve and perception of the opposing forces are not taken into consideration.
Taboo questions are still not answered, or even discussed in polite academic or analytic circles, even in the supposedly free Western societies. What if immigrants don’t want to integrate or even respect their host societies and cultures? What if the majorities of host societies refuse to accept or are indifferent to the plight of faraway people? Is refusing to listen to the will of the majority making liberal politicians anti-democratic? What should be the measurable indices by which a migrant can show his or her will to respect and contribute to a host society? Is migration a permanent recipe for conflict and societal strain? And ultimately, on whose side is the burden of assimilation?
Merkel has never answered these questions, nor has any other European liberal politician, policy maker or academic. Her apology therefore sounds shallow. While she cannot directly say that she was wrong — as that would be catastrophic for her party in the general elections — it is quite possible that Merkel understands clearly that she made a terrible mistake. Carried away by her ideology and narrative and misunderstanding the ground realities including the European appetite for integration Merkel failed to take into account the potential for backlash.
Unfortunately, if she says that she was completely wrong, the result would be devastating in the next general election, as voters might then raise the question that why should she be trusted again anyway, given that she failed miserably once before.
Therein lies a curious conundrum. Yes Merkel has failed before but if Merkel falls, the result for Europe may actually be much worse. Europe and the far right are not words that fit well together, given European history. For good or for bad, Merkel is a frontier against the rising far right. And with Merkel gone, Europe will be in trouble. In the greatest historical irony therefore, we may again have liberals paving the way for the doomed continent’s descent into hell.
Sumantra Maitra is a foreign affairs correspondent and doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.