In order to save her coalition government, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to introduce refugee centers along the southern border. However, the move could put an end to one of the European Union’s pillars: freedom of movement. Former Die Linke parliamentarian Annette Groth analyzes the situation
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert.
It looks like Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel might have saved her government and the European Union, at least temporarily, over the issue of immigration. That is, last Monday she announced that refugees coming from southern Europe would now be held in so-called transition centers, or transit centers, for up to 48 hours, where officials will determine whether refugees who have applied for asylum in other European countries would be returned to that country. Here’s what Chancellor Merkel had to say on Wednesday about the deal.
ANGELA MERKEL: At the moment we are working on how to respond within Europe. And here we are saying the person who is applying for asylum and protection can’t choose the country where they will reside. But the frontline states cannot be left alone. That is part of it, and that is why the topic of distribution is so important, and Germany has always shown solidarity.
GREG WILPERT: Austria reacted quickly, saying that they might have to institute a similar policy on its southern border. Here’s Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
SEBASTIAN KURZ: One thing is clear to us. We are prepared for all scenarios, and are also prepared to take all measures necessary to avert damage not only to our Republic, but also to the population in Austria. We are prepared to answer sensational measures by the Germans by setting measures at our borders, especially at our southern borders.
GREG WILPERT: The issue threatens the stability of both the European Union and the German government; that is, Chancellor Merkel’s coalition government of three parties. Her own Christian Democratic Union, the conservative Christian Social Union, and the Social Democratic Party disagree on how to deal with refugees crossing the open EU borders into Germany. Instituting hard border controls, however, risks one of the EU’s main principles, that of freedom of movement.
Joining me now to analyze the latest developments in Germany’s border policies is Annette Agroth. Anette is a former member of the Bundestag for the Left Party, Die Linke. She was also a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Migration, Refugees, and Displaced Persons of the Council of Europe. Welcome back, Annette.
ANNETTE GROTH: Hello.
GREG WILPERT: So how will this deal now be implemented, as far as we can tell? That is, will there be a passport controls at Germany’s southern borders, mainly Austria and possibly Czechia? Or if not, how will border agents know who is a potential refugee or immigrant, and who is not?
ANNETTE GROTH: Everybody would like to know this, because it is a complete mess. It is a complete open question. You know, the border between Austria and Germany is only 800 kilometres long. So there are some normal borders. But there is a [green] border as well. So if they want to place along the border policemen, or border police, it is completely unrealistic and it will not work. And everybody, I guess, knows that.
So what troubles me more is really the idea of establishing so-called, as you said, transitional or transit centers. Anchor hotspots, as we call it. Or they used to call it hotspots. We can see what is, how a hotspot is working, or working in brackets, is, for instance, in Lesbos, in Greece. Because they have such a hotspot, or place where they put up refugees. Horrible conditions. I mean, it is a shame for Europe, for the Greek government, but also for the European Union. And if they want to establish hotspots or whatever these centers may be called outside Europe, in Libya or Niger, or [inaudible]. I mean, it is, nobody can really ensure that the people will have the opportunity, fair treatment to apply for asylum. This is a nightmare, and Europe should just forget it as soon as possible.
GREG WILPERT: Give us a quick idea as to what exactly is the issue or the problem with these kinds of hotspots or transit centers.
ANNETTE GROTH: I mean, there was just a big report in our newspapers about Moria. This is in Lesbos. Their maximum capacity is 2500 people. There are now, for at least several months, more than 7000. There is, the NGOs may not enter. There is a complete sealed off area, police, police center. And people are getting sick. People have no right or no possibility to ask for asylum, because there are no lawyers permitted in, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a big disaster. And the human conditions are just inhuman. So these centers like this one should be closed immediately, and if the European Union really considers to establish centers like this elsewhere, it is, as I said, a nightmare, and what is Europe doing is keeping out the refugees out of their territory.
And this is all about it, and has nothing to do with our right to apply for asylum for people who needed to escape from war, from terror, from disasters, et cetera. They should think about what happened, what happened in the ’30s. Nobody wanted to have the Jewish refugees. Same story now.
GREG WILPERT: Well, assuming that we get a better idea as to exactly how this is going to work, will this compromise save Merkel’s government? That is, will her coalition partners, the Christian Social Union and the Social Democratic Party, agree to this deal?
ANNETTE GROTH: I have my doubts, because Merkel is today in Hungary, and sees, and meets with Orbán, the right-wing leader from Hungary. Kurz, Sebastian Kurz already announced that he definitely is not ready to take back refugees. That would be sent back from Germany to Austria. I mean, as I said, there is a vicious circle. Nobody wants them. And what do you do with people just entering Italy, and then they are moving some direction up north, and if they have registered in Italy or not? I mean, it is, their own issue has, is not solved. And Germany, or Austria, or the other European countries can’t just cross their borders, because it is, indeed, against the European Union’s principle. Freedom of movement means up to now, or increasingly, freedom of movement for capital. For money. Because this freedom is just unrestricted. But people, no. There is no, no freedom of movement any longer.
GREG WILPERT: I just want to turn now to the-. Sorry, did you want to add something?
ANNETTE GROTH: We will see what will happen with the coalition, I mean the Social Democratic Party, until now faced hardly any criticism now with this new proposal. And so everybody now is waiting how they will react, and what is their proposal, and what is the Christian Social Union, you know, [inaudible] and these people are going to do. I guess Merkel should have sent him, you know, when he offered his resignment, he should, she should have said yes, thank you so much for your service, now go home to Bavaria.
GREG WILPERT: I should probably just add for clarification that you’re talking about Horst Seehofer, the interior minister of Germany, who threatened to resign over this issue. But hasn’t, in order-. Because they want to keep the coalition together. Let me just turn to the other parties. That is, the Alternative for Germany, the AFD, which now is the largest opposition party since September. I mean, it’s not much larger than the other parties, but still with 11 percent of the vote is larger than the other three or four parties. It seems that their rhetoric and their electoral success has been driving the Christian Social Union further to the right. That is Horst Seehofer, the Interior Minister’s party. One of the elements of their rhetoric, of course, has been this idea that there’s too many immigrants in Germany, and they are causing a crime wave. What’s your response to these kinds of claims?
ANNETTE GROTH: This is really nonsense. I mean, foreigners, migrants, refugees are not more criminals than Germans in the country. I mean, the criminal rate in Germany has gone down quite, quite substantially, by the way, last year. And everybody knows that if you repeat, you know, these refugees, migrants, are more criminal, they commit, they are violating our women, they are stealing our, using our social benefits, et cetera, et cetera. You just keep reiterating lies, or fake news. Or half a, half, 50 percent news.
So people get confused. And you know, what [inaudible] said, you have to repeat a lie often enough, then people tend to believe it. It’s exactly this. This is like in the U.S., by the way, and elsewhere. So, and you are right. The AFD, the Alternative For Germany, they are pushing Germany, and particularly the Christian Social Union, to the right. So Bavaria has national elections in October, so there is a competition now between the Christian Social Union, it’s hard for me to pronounce it because they are either Christian or social, but they are contrary. So they compete with the AFD.
Now, and the recent polls show clearly that the CSU is not winning by this rhetoric, right-wing rhetoric, but is losing. So I would rather, the people are rather voting for the original than for the copy. And it’s so stupid. And we see this in other countries, as well. If the democratic parties try to imitate or repeat the rhetoric of the far right it doesn’t matter, because the far right will nevertheless win. We have seen this in Poland and in Hungary, and in other countries.
GREG WILPERT: So finally, I just want to turn to Die Linke. You’re a former member of the Bundestag for Die Linke, the Left Party. Have they taken a position with regard to all of this?
ANNETTE GROTH: Oh yeah, oh yeah. My former colleague, who is the speaker for interior policy, she is really passionate. We all, Die Linke is completely against it, and has repeated this I don’t know how many times. But for us we are a rather small opposition party in comparison to IFD. You know, it’s very hard to be, to get our voice into the media. This is also a concern, and I realize this. Also, AFD and CSU, and all these right wing parties, but leftists, sometimes you have the Green Party also, vigorously against these new ideas.
But I mean, we have to challenge the Social Democratic Party, because they’re in the coalition with Merkel and the others. And they are, they, until now, they also condemned it and criticized this concept. But at the moment they are rather weak in their criticism. No, no [inaudible].
GREG WILPERT: I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Annette Grothe, former member of the Parliamentary Committee on Migration and Refugees, and Displaced Persons of the Council of Europe. Thanks for joining us today, Annette.
ANNETTE GROTH: Thank you. Bye bye.
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