How is Germany dealing with the refugee crisis? And how is the country handling the increased threat of terrorism in Europe?
Immigration and security are issues of concern for many Europeans, and were at the heart of Monday’s roundtable discussion at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s Transatlantic Dialogue Program in Washington, D.C.
“Currently what Germany is doing is checkbook diplomacy – a diplomacy of writing checks,” Handelsblatt editor and publisher Gabor Steingart said about the country’s efforts in solving the refugee crisis during the debate under the headline “Europe: The Overburdened Continent and Germany on the Crossroads.”
Mr. Steingart was critical of the approach of Chancellor Angela Merkel and her supporters to win over Turkey as an ally to curb the influx of refugees entering the European Union.
“First, they wrote checks to the Greek government, now to Turkey,” he told an audience of around 25 government and business representatives, journalists and academics. “This is how they want to solve the problem.”
Under the agreement reached between E.U. and Turkish leaders in Friday, all migrants and refugees reaching the Greek islands are to be deported back to Turkey after being registered, and for every Syrian returned, the European Union will resettle one from a Turkish refugee camp.
In return for its cooperation, Turkey has won E.U. support to double refugee aid to €6 billion ($6.8 billion), allow visa-free travel for its citizens in Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone and accelerate its long-stalled bid to join the European Union.
Kevin O’Brien, editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition, put Europe’s refugee crisis into perspective: The almost 1.5 million refugees who have already reached Europe would be the equivalent to 5 million people entering the United States within only a few months, he said. Europe, he added, needs to build a solid perimeter around its outer borders to control the intake of asylum seekers while maintaining free movement of goods and people within the region.
Mr. Steingart considers Germany’s current position on the refugee crisis as naïve. “Or as Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel’s predecessor, put it, ‘big heart, no plan’,” he said.
Walter Stadtler of the National Defense University questioned whether the flow of information between refugees via social media and other networks was encouraging people to come to Europe and intensifying current migration movements.
He also asked how Germany was monitoring information related to potential terrorism attacks.
“To address the rise of extremism and respond appropriately to security threats in the digital age, the German government and other European nations are in desperate need of technological expertise and intelligence cooperation,” said Lea Steinacker of the German weekly Wirtschaftswoche at the meeting.
Since the Paris attacks on November 13, government and security officials in France and around Europe have been scrutinizing how the Islamic State was able to organize the terrorist attacks under the radar of Western intelligence.
Mr. Steingart stressed the need for more powerful European institutions to address these issue. “At the moment, it is only the European Central Bank that has an impact, but we need other institutions in Europe to gain strength, too,” he said.
He also pointed out that the European Union is a two-speed region: While all member states are required to make decisions together, only a few actually take action on issues, including Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom.
The Naumann roundtable was the latest of several stops during Handelsblatt Global Edition’s 10-day U.S. roadshow, meeting with think-tanks, businesses and opinion leaders in Washington and New York.