• Merkel Is Europe’s Conscience and Leader, for Now

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey September 03, 2015

    When she chooses to do so, Angela Merkel can speak with real conviction. So it was on August 31 during her one-and-a-half-hour summer press conference in Berlin.

    It was an impressive performance for the German chancellor, who continues to deal intensively with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Greece’s eurozone woes, which are far from over, and now Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since the former Yugoslavia erupted into civil war in the early 1990s.

    Indeed, it is Germany that is taking the lead on these three highly complex issues, not the EU institutions or any other leader in Europe. In short, Germany is shouldering a big responsibility for problems that should have been the remit of the EU’s foreign, security, and defense policy.

    Dempsey is a nonresident senior associate at Carnegie Europe and editor in chief of <em>Strategic Europe</em>.
    Judy Dempsey
    Nonresident Senior Associate
    Carnegie Europe
    Editor in chief
    Strategic Europe
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    But because the EU has been so abysmal at anticipating crises—and even worse at stopping them from deepening—it has fallen to Merkel, with the help of her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and now her Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, to prevent the implosion of the EU. And that is what is at stake.

    If EU leaders, whether in Lisbon or London, Budapest or Madrid, do not realize this and instead delude themselves into believing that Europe can continue to muddle through various crises, they are seriously mistaken.

    Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine, Greece’s debt troubles, and now Europe’s gargantuan refugee crisis threaten the very foundations of the EU and everything it stands for. Merkel knows this. As she said during her August 31 press conference, “if Europe fails on the question of refugees, [its] close link with universal civil rights [will be] broken.”

    She is right.

    Germany’s stance is not just about the country’s past, which has bequeathed to its postwar citizens a sense of responsibility coupled with guilt. Merkel has also spoken out against those countries that have tried to turn away refugees forced to flee the wars in Syria and Iraq and the appalling repression in Eritrea.

    As if EU member states needed reminding, there were plenty of European countries that were reluctant to offer refuge to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany or Austria in the 1930s and 1940s. And there were plenty of countries—including Hungary, which is now doing everything to stop refugees from using it as a transit country—that in the closing stages of World War II rounded up their large Jewish populations and deported them to Nazi concentration camps.

    When she chooses to do so, Angela #Merkel can speak with real conviction.
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    It is remarkable and easy to forget how, on the ruins of Europe, and with much strategic foresight from the United States, today’s European Union was conceived.

    Apart from the internal market and the free movement of labor and people, the EU was built on values. Commitment to the values that underpin liberal democracies—freedom and solidarity, the market economy, the separation of church and state, the offer of safety to those who need it, and the basic human rights that Europeans take for granted—is what defines Europe.

    Yet in the case of the refugees, with few exceptions, EU member states’ reactions have been shameful and damaging to Europe’s commitment to those values.

    So where does this leave Merkel? Actually, in an unenviable situation, but also in one that gives her the ability to change Germany in a very positive way.

    It seems that the majority of refugees fleeing Syria for Europe want to make Germany their destination. Who knows if 800,000 will apply for asylum in Germany, as forecast by Berlin? The issue is how the German federal and local authorities will deal with such large numbers. It is about providing an entire infrastructure—housing, healthcare, food, clothing, counseling, children’s care, and education facilities—for these people.

    Supporters of far-right movements have already burned buildings set aside for the refugees. And there are Germans, especially in the eastern part of the country, who are highly suspicious of foreigners, to put it mildly.

    This is where not only the German leadership but also grassroots organizations have come into play in a big way.

    On September 2, de Maizière announced plans to speed up the process of integration. He wants to break through the bureaucratic maze of how to process asylum seekers. De Maizière, who is probably Merkel’s closest confidant and has worked with her ever since she entered politics in 1989, has already made it clear that those fleeing war—meaning the Syrian refugees—will get priority in the asylum application process.

    Integration is something Germany has been trying to grapple with over the past few years, given the disparity in education levels and opportunities between the country’s large Turkish community and the local population. Germany did not have any integration policy for its Gastarbeiter, or guest workers, because it assumed the Turks would go home someday.

    EU member states' reactions to refugees have been shameful and damaging.
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    The country is now learning from that mistake. The Merkel government is making an all-out effort to ensure that all children attend kindergarten from the age of three. And for refugees who settle in Germany, Berlin wants to integrate them as quickly as possible.

    Germany’s attitude toward the refugees could go dreadfully wrong unless Merkel and de Maizière succeed in pushing the EU to finally forge a common refugee and asylum policy. The country’s xenophobic and racist Far Right but also Euroskeptics are waiting for their moment in Germany. So far, Merkel’s policies, backed by an impressive plethora of movements and individuals helping the refugees, hold sway.

    But Germany cannot go it alone: it is not sustainable, either domestically or from an EU perspective. That is why Germany, along with France and Britain, has called a special meeting of EU interior ministers for September 14. But surely it is time for a summit of EU leaders—and soonest—at which Merkel can make her case. It is not only about agreeing on a long-overdue asylum and refugee policy for the EU. It is about the legacy of World War II.


  • Judy Asks: Is This Europe’s Time for Political Union?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, September 02, 2015

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • France Has a Few Ideas for Europe

    Posted by: Jan Techau Tuesday, September 01, 2015

    Paris has taken the initiative in proposing more political integration for the eurozone. The plan is commendable but has significant shortcomings too.

  • Europe’s New Walls

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, August 31, 2015

    Building walls against refugees, against Russia, and against the Roma minority undermines what the European Union is supposed to stand for.

  • Greece’s Groundhog Day

    Posted by: Magda Tsakalidou, Stratos Pourzitakis Friday, August 28, 2015

    Greece’s ruling Syriza party looks set to win the snap election to be held on September 20. Yet the victory may be thin, resulting in a new coalition government.

  • The Western Balkans’ Long March to Europe

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, August 27, 2015

    It’s going to take immense political will to ensure long-term stability and prosperity for Southeastern Europe and to guarantee EU membership for the region.

  • Judy Asks: Is Schengen Dead?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, August 26, 2015

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • The Autumn of Our Discontent?

    Posted by: Jan Techau Tuesday, August 25, 2015

    Between now and the end of 2015, a number of fundamental crises will combine to push the capacity for European policymaking to its limits.

  • What Europe’s Refugee Influx Means for EU Foreign Policy

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, August 24, 2015 8

    The European Union’s approach to crisis management is reactive. What is more, the union is unwilling to consider using hard power to underpin its values.

  • Europe’s Pathetic Lack of Foreign Policy Ambition

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Friday, August 07, 2015 11

    The European Union is strategically and politically ill prepared to make a difference at the regional or global level.

  • Reforms in Ukraine: No Room for Pessimism

    Posted by: Anna Korbut Thursday, August 06, 2015 1

    Ukraine’s old, corrupt political system is determined to resist change. At the same time, the country’s civil society activists are determined to change that system.

  • Who’s Afraid of NATO Enlargement?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, August 05, 2015 3

    Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine is forcing NATO to rethink the strategic benefits of further alliance enlargement.

  • What to Make of Turkey’s New Counterterrorism Policy

    Posted by: Marc Pierini Tuesday, August 04, 2015

    Ankara’s recent change of policy toward the Islamic State is a game changer. But the shift coincides with a more perplexing move against Turkey’s Kurdish insurgency.

  • What’s Wrong With Germany?

    Posted by: John Kornblum Monday, August 03, 2015 5

    The German economy is out of balance with those of other EU member states. Increasingly, Germany’s strength is blamed for Europe’s woes.

  • Letter From the Brussels Bubble

    Posted by: Ian Traynor Friday, July 31, 2015 1

    Despite some recent successes, the European Union’s foreign policy lacks ambition. What will it take to shake the EU out of its complacency and bickering?

  • What Are You Reading?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, July 30, 2015

    Time for Strategic Europe’s annual summer reading suggestions! Carnegie Europe has asked a cross-section of diplomats, policymakers, and analysts to share their favorite books.

  • The OSCE From Confrontation to Cooperation and Back Again

    Posted by: Stefan Lehne Wednesday, July 29, 2015 1

    In crisis situations between the West and Russia, the OSCE offers a useful safety net to preserve a minimum level of stability. No other body could replace it.

  • The Energy Security Dilemma of Turkish Stream

    Posted by: Stratos Pourzitakis Tuesday, July 28, 2015 5

    Energy dependence between the EU and Russia has increased mistrust between them, and energy has become an issue of national security for both sides.

  • What Are You Reading?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, July 27, 2015

    Time for Strategic Europe’s annual summer reading suggestions! Carnegie Europe has asked a cross-section of diplomats, policymakers, and analysts to share their favorite books.

  • Letter From Zagreb

    Posted by: Žarko Puhovski Friday, July 24, 2015 2

    Croatia’s foreign policy paints a gloomy picture. One way for Zagreb to raise its game could be by contributing to major initiatives led by the bigger EU member states.


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Judy Dempsey’s Strategic Europe offers insightful analysis, fresh commentary, and concrete policy recommendations from some of Europe’s keenest international affairs observers.

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