Merkel Shifts on Immigration But Maybe Not Fast Enough

The German leader talks tough, but time to stem mass defections to the far right is running out.

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel delivers a televised address from the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, November 18, 2015 (Bundesregierung/Sandra Steins)

German chancellor Angela Merkel this weekend backed plans to extend judges’ power to order the deportation of migrants convicted of serious crimes. It was a concession to the right of her Christian Democrat party, which wants to put an end to the government’s open-door policy.

Merkel said offenders “must feel the full force of the law” and argued that deportations were not only in the interest of native Germans but “the great majority of refugees.”

Hardened attitudes

Attitudes have hardened since scores of immigrants were accused of large-scale, possibly coordinated, sexual assaults in Cologne and other German cities on New Year’s Eve.

More than 500 women and girls have now filed criminal complaints with 40 percent alleging sexual assaults. Many of the victims have described their attackers as men of Arab or North African appearance.

A Bild am Sonntag poll found that more Germans now favor capping the number of refugees: 48 percent support the proposal which has been made by — among others — the leader of Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, Horst Seehofer. 44 percent oppose it.

Right-wing dissent

Merkel earlier agreed to the creation of “transit zones” on Germany’s borders to check those coming in. Family reunifications were also frozen last year.

For rightwingers like Seehofer and Merkel’s hawkish finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, the measures don’t go far enough.

The latter has said, “We need to send a clear message to the world: We are very much prepared to help, we’ve shown that we are, but our possibilities are also limited.”

Merkel disagrees. She has so far refused to put a limit on the number of people who can come in.


Some one million immigrants from the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa applied for asylum last year, overwhelming the German immigration authorities as well as cities and towns who must shelter them.

The record influx of people — a tenfold increase from 2013 — makes it impossible to properly integrate all newcomers with language courses and job training.

Ross Douthat argues in The New York Times that when immigration proceeds at a steady but modest clip, there is time for assimilation to do its work. “That’s why the Muslim population in Europe has been growing only at one percentage point a decade; it’s why many of the Turkish and North African immigrants who arrived in Germany and France decades ago are reasonably Europeanized today.”

But if you add a million (or millions) of people, most of them young men, in one short period, you get a very different kind of shift.

Societies with skewed sex ratios tend to be unstable, he points out. And many of the young Middle Easterner and North African men seeking refuge in Europe “carry assumptions about women’s roles that are diametrically opposed to the values of contemporary Europe.”

Heinz Buschkowski, a prominent Social Democrat and expert on Germany’s Muslim population, told German radio last week, “They have a completely different view of women than we do here.”

Women who are on the street at 1 AM or 1:30 AM are considered whores and German women are generally considered open game.

Douthat believes it would be foolish to think that “an aging, secularized, heretofore-mostly-homogeneous society” like Germany’s “is likely to peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference.”

He advises the country to close its borders to new arrivals and deport able-bodied young men.

More generally, it must give up “the fond illusion that Germany’s past sins can be absolved with a reckless humanitarianism in the present,” he argues.


Malte Lehming, an editor at Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin, laments in The National Interest that such a discussion is still taboo.

The moral and political faction that represents what might be called Germany’s “welcome culture” rigorously throttles any attempt to discern a connection between refugees and the danger of Islamic terror, he writes.

He could have argued much the same for sexual violence.

Lehming cites an Allensbach Institute poll which has found that nearly one in two Germans are afraid to voice their opinion about the refugee crisis. “Germany, you could say, is divided once again.”

One side has fear of Überfremdung (over-foreignization), of Islam, of radicalization, of limitless immigration. Their opponents have opened their hearts to the refugees and believe in their ability to integrate into German society.

This website warned last year that as long as nominally conservative leaders like Merkel seem more worried about xenophobia than they are about violence against native Germans, they could end up radicalizing their own voters and give them no choice but to vote for parties on the far right.

The Alternative für Deutschland, an anti-immigration party, is already rising in the polls. Merkel’s time to stem conservative defections to the nationalists is running out.