Why you should care
Because the most powerful leader in Europe is facing a mutiny over immigration.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? The United States is not the only place where a debate on immigration policy is raging. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure from fellow conservative leaders to restrict the country’s open-door migration law. And U.S. President Donald Trump took time away from defending America’s new “zero tolerance” policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border to criticize Merkel on Twitter: “Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!”
Why does it matter? The dispute threatens the decades-old alliance between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian wing, the Christian Social Union, along with Merkel’s very chancellorship. On Monday, Merkel’s coalition partners led by interior minister and CSU leader Horst Seehofer gave her an ultimatum to tighten Germany’s borders and abide by new rules that would see refugees returned to the first EU state in which they registered. She was given another two weeks, until after meetings held at the European Council summit June 28 and 29, to find a solution.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Opening the door to a storm of controversy. Since 2015 Merkel has kept an open-door policy for refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan who reach Germany — so far taking in more than 1.4 million with 10,000 more flowing in each month. Merkel, in power since 2005, remains Germany’s most popular politician — but less than 100 days after negotiating a fourth term as the nation’s leader she finds herself fighting for her political survival amid a surge of populism and anti-immigrant feeling.
“Crime in Germany is way up.” That’s what Trump also tweeted this week, echoing arguments made by the German far-right, but the data doesn’t back him up. In fact, Germany clocked its lowest crime rate since 1992 this year. Still, the majority of Germans support greater immigration restrictions, and 41 percent in one recent survey said they felt less safe in public spaces compared to five years ago. Trump doubled down Tuesday, tweeting that crime in Germany was up 10 percent but that “officials” weren’t reporting it. He noted that America should “be smart” while reiterating support for his administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border, which two-thirds of Americans say they oppose.
A Europe-wide problem. Mediterranean countries like Greece and Italy have borne much of the burden of the ongoing refugee crisis — thanks to current EU rules stipulating that migrants need to apply for asylum where they first arrive — while newer members like Poland and Hungary have refused to accept any refugees at all, sparking lawsuits from the European Commission. Meanwhile, Italy and Malta each recently refused a ship filled with hundreds of rescued refugees, which docked in Spain. France, which has offered to take in some of the boat’s migrants, called Italy “irresponsible” — despite reports from Oxfam that its own border guards had been abusing migrant children and sending them back to Italy to seek asylum, in violation of EU rules.
From Russia with love (and collusion). The German far-right’s base is located mostly in the country’s ex-communist eastern regions — lands once under Moscow’s political influence during the Cold War. Fast forward three decades: Russia’s powerful state propaganda machine has proved partly responsible for fueling the rise of Alternative for Germany, a political party that loves Russia right back: Key party leaders accepted a trip to Moscow last year funded by an unidentified Russian sponsor.
WHAT TO READ
Increasing Headwinds for Angela Merkel, by Der Spiegel staff in Der Spiegel
“Now, she seems like a chancellor on the way out. And any politician who has been in power for an extended period has had plenty of time to collect numerous political enemies.”
The Refugee Detectives: Inside Germany’s high-stakes operation to sort people fleeing death from opportunists and predators, by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic
“That mandate — separating refugees, who will be allowed to stay, from economic migrants, many of whom will not — has launched a gigantic bureaucratic project, sure to offend everyone.”
WHAT TO WATCH
The Night That Changed Germany’s Attitude to Refugees
“What happened in Cologne on New Year’s Eve would radically alter German attitudes toward refugees and threaten to undermine their welcome culture.”
Watch on Journeyman Pictures on YouTube:
Europe’s Most Fortified Border Is in Africa
“As soon as they put their feet on the ground in Melilla, they are technically in Europe, and are guaranteed certain protections under European Union law.”
Watch on Vox on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Between a rock and a hard platz. If Merkel, 63, stands her ground on immigration, then she would likely have to fire Seehofer and watch the ruling CDU-CSU coalition disband. This would leave the chancellor without a majority in Parliament, which could result in another election. If she compromises and corrects her own policy, however, she risks looking politically vulnerable and increasingly like a lame-duck leader after 13 years in power.