Foreign Policy, Security

Merkel’s Meaningless Mea Culpa

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.



  1. Joscha says

    I suspect that the author gets a few things wrong. Merkel is leading not the social democrats (center-left) but the christian democrats (center-right). The current refugee crisis is not so much an immigration issue, as it is the direct result of the devastating war in Syria. There is no ocean between Syria and Europe, so boats full of legitimate refugees continue to land at Europe’s coasts. Germany’s history has put a duty to accept refugees into its constitution, and sending people fleeing a war zone right back into that war zone is quite unpalatable. Most Germans support Merkel’s course. (There is also the issue that Germany actually needs immigration to bolster its shrinking populations, and many Syrians are well educated.)

    If the social democrats are losing in elections, it is not because Merkel is unpopular: the social democrats are her competition. But their policies are largely the same as the christian democratic ones, so they cannot mobilize their leftist voters any more. On the other hand, the christian democrats tended to integrate the right wing of Germany’s voters, which is exactly the segment of the population that is worried about migration, Islamization etc. With Merkel seeing herself forced to ignore the rightists, she is opening up an opportunity for a new party on the right (AfD). She finds herself in a bind: by catering to the rightists, she might lose votes in the center without actually winning over a similar number of votes on the right.

    To understand Angela Merkel, it is important to realize that she has no political agenda herself. She was headed for power in communist Eastern Germany, and after the collapse of Eastern Germany, she joined the christian democrats out of opportunism. Merkel tends to carefully evaluate the political winds and align herself with them. This makes her more of a public servant than a narcissistic shaper (like her Blairite predecessor Schröder), which is what the Germans seem to like about her.

    • People in what used to be known as “East Germany” feel different as there is higher unemployment and more economic strain. And culturally, there has always been less tolerance and liberality, as far as I’m aware — there is a tradition of governmental authoritarianism in the East that dates back to Prussia. From what I can gather the Eastern Germans aren’t not that pleased with the Berliners bringing in a whole lot of migrants, when their own socio-economic problems aren’t sorted out yet. Hence the rise of AfD in the East.

    • I meant, social democrat forces across Europe, not SD as a party in Germany. But thanks for pointing that out, in case it sounds confusing.

      Disagree with Merkel “not having any agenda” hypothesis.

    • Joscha:
      Almost all Syrians entering Europe cross water
      Regardless of its origin, when it gets to Europe, it is an immigration issue
      Most asylum seekers entering Europe are not from Syria
      What is your source for the claim most support Merkel’s course? I don’t believe this claim to be true. CDU voting intentions are not a poll on migration policy

    • “The current refugee crisis is not so much an immigration issue, as it is the direct result of the devastating war in Syria.”

      Ah, yes. That devastating war in Syria that’s creating all those refugees from Eritrea, Afghanistan, and Angola.

    • “Germany’s history has put a duty to accept refugees into its constitution, and sending people fleeing a war zone right back into that war zone is quite unpalatable. Most Germans support Merkel’s course. (There is also the issue that Germany actually needs immigration to bolster its shrinking populations, and many Syrians are well educated.)”

      Splendid nonsense. There are EU countries around Germany. Sending people back would not require sending them back to Syria. Check the Dublin treaties, which are still existent in the form of letters, though suspended in practice.

      Most German’s do not support that course of hers. The majority is highly critical. Most of the supposed refugees are poorly qualified. And whatever Immigrants Germany may need it can select. It can get much more qualified people. With them – instead of the actual migrants/refugees – Germany would not make an economic loss, but would instead gain. (You may also want to look up the concept of “opportunity costs”.)

      Do you seriously dispute any of this?

  2. “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.”

    It’s a nice combination. Not being able to sufficiently socially engineer their own citizens, who are deemed devastatingly sexist, racist, and/or xenophobic, yet proclaiming that they will “integrate” a host of people who are far less progressed in things “progressive”. Not only are the latter far less progressed, they are also out of the age of childhood, and subsequent generations have been shown to cluster and isolate themselves.

    I’m not sure whether these moral leaders deveive themselves. But the way information surfaces only piece by piece – information that is stored somewhere and relevant – is not a good sign for anything. Recently it turned out that there are 500.000 plus people whose request for asylum has failed, but who are tolerated anyway, because they “can’t be deported”, and have been that way for years.

    • By the way, after some correct counting – this time for real, one is told – there were 890.000 refugees in 2015, instead of the estimated 1.100.000; another 210.000 in 2016, so far. Given the number and name games, it’s hard to tell what counts as “refugee”. Further, a number of between 250.000 and 500.000 (estimated for 2015) never was registered, and is either still in Germany, or has moved elsewhere.

  3. The Autistic Hominid says

    According to liberals, the Hungarian government is “far right”; however, Hungary doesn’t seem to be descending “into hell”. Actually, it’s a nice country. Even some Germans are fleeing to Hungary to escape from diversity.

    I may be wrong, but it seems like the author of this piece is scared about the prospect of European nations taking back control of their destiny.

  4. nicky says

    The problem is that the only ones recognising that not just fundamentalist, jihadist, but also mainstream traditional Islam is incompatible with European values (which would include ‘Enlightenment-inspired’ democracy, women and minority rights, etc) is the far right. A far right that itself is, btw, not exactly strong on those values.
    The ‘left’and even ‘center/center-right’ (not to mention the ‘regressive left’) have failed completely to recognise the problem posed by Islamic mass immigration.
    If the ‘left’ and ‘centre’ don’t come to their senses quickly, I see only 4 main possible scenarios:
    1 – subjugation of Europe to Islam, where the ‘traditional’ Europeans are reduced to dhimmi status (not very likely),
    2 – a mass deconversion, de-islamisation of the majority of muslims in the receiving countries (not very likely either),
    3 – the coming to power of extreme right-wing regimes, with draconian measures and mass deportation/’repatriation’, with disintegration of the EU and traditional European democratic and liberal values (a quite likely scenario)
    4 – civil war (also not really unlikely).

    All these outcomes (except for the unlikely second one) are profoundly scary. Does anybody have a more hopeful scenario?

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