• Putin Uses the Refugee Crisis to Weaken Merkel

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey February 08, 2016

    Back in December 2015, when it became clear that refugees from the Middle East would continue to head toward Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel reassured her conservative Christian Democratic Union party that everything was under control. All she needed, she told party members, was more time. Germany could manage the influx of over 1 million refugees and asylum seekers.

    Merkel was banking, naively or not, on two things: peace talks that would end the five-year-long war in Syria; and cooperation from Turkey to stop sending refugees to EU countries, improve the conditions for refugees, and strengthen the EU’s external border. Neither has materialized. Merkel’s task of reassuring her party and voters is becoming trickier by the day.

    The peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending the Syrian war collapsed on February 5. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon blamed Russia. On the eve of the talks, Russia had bombarded the rebel-held city of Aleppo. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were back with a vengeance. So much for those Western leaders who believed that Russian President Vladimir Putin was an essential partner in weakening the so-called Islamic State and ending the war in Syria.

    Putin’s policies in Syria have wreaked further havoc in the region. During the weekend of February 6–7, tens of thousands of refugees were trying to flee to Turkey, itself in the throes of a war with the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

    Many refugees will try to make it to Europe rather than remain in Turkey. As the war in Syria continues relentlessly, Merkel is coming under siege from all sides, no thanks to Putin and no thanks to her EU counterparts.

    Putin’s continuing support to keep Assad in power has a direct correlation with Merkel’s weakening support at home. The longer the war in Syria endures, the weaker it could make Merkel. This has consequences for the rest of the EU. A weakened Merkel means a weakened, more divided Europe. The bloc will be in no shape to deal with the ever-mounting security challenges it faces, not least the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine, where on February 3 the economy minister resigned in disgust and frustration over corruption.

    Against such a background, it is going to be very hard for Europe’s most powerful leader to try to swing the mood in her country. Germans are increasingly skeptical of her slogan “Wir schaffen das!” (“We can do it!”) and increasingly critical of other EU countries’ refusal to accept the moral, political, and humanitarian principle of taking in those fleeing war.

    Yet this is what EU governments will have to do if they want Turkey to help protect the EU’s external borders. “Europe can’t completely keep out of this,” Merkel said during her weekly podcast just before she headed off to Turkey on February 8.

    Merkel’s latest plan is for Turkey to stop the flow of refugees to Greece, which can no longer cope under the immense strain. But outsourcing the refugee problem to either Greece or Turkey is not a sustainable option. In return for Turkey’s assistance, Merkel said EU countries, many of which have already refused to take in refugees or are closing their borders, would have to be willing to accept quotas of migrants. They must share the burden of providing shelter to refugees with Turkey, which has taken in over 2.5 million people fleeing Syria.

    “We need to protect our external border because we want to keep Schengen,” Merkel said, referring to the system of passport-free travel among most EU countries. “And if we can’t protect it, then this huge region of free movement, our internal market, which is the foundation of our prosperity, will be in danger, and we need to prevent that.”

    But one has to wonder if those political parties and movements opposed to giving refugees shelter actually care about Schengen—and, as a corollary, about the EU. This is Merkel’s other problem.

    Month by month, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) is creeping up the opinion polls. Once a bourgeois Euroskeptic party, it has shed its sheep’s clothing. It is now becoming a home for the far Right. The more EU countries refuse to take in refugees, the more the AfD can tap into this dual anti-Europe and anti-refugee sentiment.

    This is not lost on Merkel and her coalition government. A poll published on February 3 by the German public broadcaster ARD showed several worrying trends for Merkel. The government’s popularity has fallen from 54 percent in August 2015 to 38 percent during the first week of February 2016. The AfD is now Germany’s third-largest party, with 12 percent support.

    Eighty-one percent of those polled believe the government hasn’t a grip on the refugee situation. Sixty-three percent want a limit on refugees entering Germany. Of some relief for Merkel is that the overwhelming majority of Germans (94 percent) say it is right that Germany accepts people feeling war.

    With Putin helping continue the war in Syria, the time Merkel needed back in December seems increasingly elusive. More than ever she needs a respite as voters prepare to give their verdict on her leadership in three important regional elections in March. That respite will not come from Putin.


  • Letter From Tunis

    Posted by: Walid Haddouk Friday, February 05, 2016

    Despite over two decades of partnership, it is unclear whether the EU’s approach toward Tunisia has increased the country’s economic and social wealth.

  • Europe and Russia: Five Statements, Five Questions

    Posted by: Robert Cooper Thursday, February 04, 2016

    The positive political relations that provide security depend on cooperation, and cooperation needs common instruments like the EU, NATO, and the OSCE.

  • Judy Asks: Will the Next U.S. President Care About Europe?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, February 03, 2016 1

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

  • Libyan Lessons for Europe

    Posted by: Daniel Keohane Tuesday, February 02, 2016

    Libya is a rare security challenge for which Europe should take more responsibility than other external powers such as the United States.

  • Europe’s Declining Influence, Europe’s Growing Illiberalism

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, February 01, 2016 9

    With few exceptions, European leaders are turning their backs on a EU that was built on openness, values, and influence.

  • Letter From Jerusalem

    Posted by: Menachem Klein Friday, January 29, 2016

    Because of the distance between them, the EU and Israel have serious misperceptions of each other. That puts the EU in a strategic, political, and moral dilemma.

  • Russia’s Manipulation of Germany’s Refugee Problems

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, January 28, 2016 2

    The Kremlin and the Russian media are using Europe’s refugee crisis to sow further divisions in the EU and weaken Angela Merkel.

  • Judy Asks: Will Turkey Help Europe on Refugees?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, January 27, 2016

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

  • Poland’s New Politics

    Posted by: Jarosław Kuisz Tuesday, January 26, 2016 2

    The leader of Poland’s governing conservative Law and Justice party is making political use of the negative attitudes toward the West among certain groups of Poles.

  • Germany, Dump Nord Stream 2

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, January 25, 2016 11

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel needs more allies, not opponents, in the EU. Abandoning a second Russian-German gas pipeline could help.

  • Letter From Damascus

    Posted by: Salam Kawakibi Friday, January 22, 2016 Français

    If the Europeans do not take the Syrian conflict seriously, other global actors will not take the Europeans seriously either.

  • Merkel, Isolated and With No Plan B

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, January 21, 2016 1

    Without support from other European countries or an alternative plan for dealing with the refugee crisis, the German chancellor’s open-door policy is not sustainable.

  • Judy Asks: Will Cheap Oil Kill Global Stability?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, January 20, 2016 1

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

  • Azerbaijan’s Perfect Storm

    Posted by: Thomas de Waal Tuesday, January 19, 2016 17 Русский

    Rising prices, a collapsing currency, international turbulence, and a nervous elite. Azerbaijan is starting 2016 in the middle of what looks like a perfect storm.

  • The Clash of Narratives Between the West and Russia

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, January 18, 2016 10 Русский

    As the new chair of the OSCE, Germany wants to rebuild dialogue, trust, and security with Russia in the vain hope of reviving its old policy of rapprochement.

  • The EU’s Benign Neglect of Eastern Europe

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Friday, January 15, 2016

    To the EU’s detriment, its policy toward its Eastern neighbors is neither creating an arc of stability nor encouraging democracy.

  • The Tunisian Revolution Five Years On

    Posted by: Marc Pierini Thursday, January 14, 2016

    As the country with the only peaceful Arab revolution, Tunisia has made remarkable progress since 2011. But major challenges remain.

  • Cyberspace and the World Order

    Posted by: Sinan Ülgen Thursday, January 14, 2016 1

    The digital world needs transatlantic leadership. Otherwise, the risk is that international governance will remain deficient, increasing the risks of cybercrime.

  • Judy Asks: Is Merkel Losing Europe?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, January 13, 2016 5

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


About Strategic Europe

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

Subscribe Today

Sign up to receive Judy Dempsey's Strategic Europe updates in your inbox! Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required.

Sign up to receive Strategic Europe updates in your inbox!
Carnegie Europe
Carnegie Europe Rue du Congrès, 15 1000 Brussels, Belgium Phone: +32 2 735 56 50 Fax: +32 2736 6222
Please note...

You are leaving the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy's website and entering another Carnegie global site.


您离开卡内基 - 清华全球政策中心网站,进入另一个卡内基全球网站。