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.
Outrage and Outreach
Has the media lost the trust of the average voter?
It’s a question that rings in the hearts of many Americans and the international community these days as they watch a firestorm gather around the possible nomination of Donald Trump, a billionaire populist who has drawn condemnation internationally for his anti-immigrant rhetoric, as the Republican candidate for U.S. president.
Is it the media’s fault, or that of Washington’s broken political establishment?
Those were some of the thoughts and concerns expressed during an annual lecture series on journalism that took place in New York on Friday in honor of the longtime and respected U.S. journalist Garrick Utley, hosted by the American Council on Germany.
The fact that Donald Trump has risen to political prominence is not the media’s fault, said Kevin O’Brien, editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition.
“Blaming the media is your last line of defense. When somebody is blaming the media, that means they are usually running out of options and are backed into a corner,” he said.
That doesn’t mean the media can rest on its laurels, argued Gabor Steingart, publisher of Handelsblatt and Handelsblatt Global Edition. Journalists need to do a better job of reinventing themselves and getting back in touch with their readers.
“The media likes to blame the Internet for almost everything that has hurt their business over the last decade,” Mr. Steingart said. But he added: “There is no need for despair. We are not dying, we are just transforming ourselves.”
The Internet may have transformed the media landscape, but the bigger driver of change is regular people challenging the established media’s dominance, Mr. Steingart said. The answer for the so-called mainstream media isn’t to walk away from the fight.
Outreach is not about being a slave to entertainment, but engaging readers in a conversation, listening to their concerns and their fears about politics and the political process – on both sides of the Atlantic.
“The digital age and the constant push of our readers and viewers for more participation is a positive force for progress. Let’s be part of the solution instead of part of the problem,” he said.
“We have to figure out new partnerships with our readers,” Mr. Steingart added. “It’s not going to be just about reading but inviting them into our club and exchanging ideas with them.”
It’s a sentiment that the German media in particular has long resisted, but that is starting to change. The U.S. may have entered the digital age first, but German readers, who have been reliant on good, old-fashioned newspapers for longer, are also starting to wake up to the online era, argued Mr. O’Brien of Handelsblatt Global Edition.
The Global Edition of Handelsblatt is one example of Germany’s own new outreach – an English-language digital publication trying to bridge the divide and break through some of the misconceptions between Germany, Europe and the United States, he said.
The Garrick Utley Memorial Lecture Series in New York was Handelsblatt’s latest stop on a 10-day tour of the United States, meeting with think-tanks and opinion leaders in Washington and New York.
Refugees, Free Trade and Populist Anger
It’s often been said that trends in the United States reach Europe with a time lag of about five years. Does that mean that Donald Trump could be on his way to Europe too?
Actually, he may already have arrived.
Listening to a discussion on the state of Europe’s politics in the U.S. capital on Thursday, the rise of populism is one of those rare trends that has grabbed the United States and Europe at exactly the same time – and it’s not a pretty picture.
At an event hosted by Handelsblatt Global Edition at the German embassy in Washington, much talk was of the souring German mood towards refugees and the rise of the “Alternative for Germany,” a populist party that was founded as an anti-euro party but in the past months has pushed back hard against immigration and the influx of more than 1 million refugees into Europe last year.
Last week, the AfD won more than 10 percent of the vote in three German states. Its success comes after other major victories by populist groups across the rest of Europe, from France to Italy to Greece.
“There are signs of a perfect populist storm coming to Europe,” warned Gabor Steingart, Handelsblatt’s publisher, at a lunch that included members of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, business representatives and congressional staffers.
Mr. Steingart counts himself as one of the pessimists on the state of Europe. He argued that democracy and the Europe Union have become like “two left feet,” in danger of “losing ordinary people” and in need to do a better job of reaching out to voters that feel nobody is listening to their concerns – whether on the challenge posed by refugees or by things like trade and globalization.
E.U. politics is leaderless at the moment, he argued. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of Europe’s largest economy, “cannot claim to be the leader of Europe” after many countries have rejected her open-door policy toward refugees, Mr. Steingart said.
Not everyone is quite so pessimistic, however. Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the United States, said he was confident that support for right-wing populist groups like the AfD will wane as the refugee crisis facing Europe eases over the coming years.
“I don’t see Europe yet at an abyss where it is about to implode,” Mr. Wittig said. The European Union has long been about messy compromises: “It’s not always a satisfactory process, but it does work.”
But Mr. Wittig was pessimistic on one point: The long-running economic crisis and refugee challenge in Europe have sapped much of Europe’s will to cooperate more closely together: “We’re going to see an era now where we see less integration.”
The populist anger has spread well beyond the issues of refugees and immigration. Mr. Steingart warned that the U.S.-E.U. free-trade deal is in danger of collapsing unless politicians and business leaders can turn the tide against voters that believe trade has brought them little more than jobs shifted overseas.
How to confront the anti-trade lobby? Make the U.S.-E.U. free-trade deal, known as TTIP, about something bigger than just trade, Mr. Steingart argued.
“TTIP is a framework we need for cooperation.” Like NATO has brought the trans-Atlantic community together on security, TTIP, he argued, could bring the United States and Europe closer together economically.
American Enterprise Institute roundtable
At the opening of a 10-day tour to promote Handelsblatt Global Edition, the Handelsblatt publisher and chief executive, Gabor Steingart, discussed the political and economic crises facing Europe on Thursday at the American Enterprise Institute, one of Washington’s iconic conservative think tanks.
In a well-attended roundtable talk, Gary Schmitt, one of the institute’s senior directors, questioned what appeared to be Russia’s increasing leverage over Germany and Europe through its deliveries of natural gas via the Nordstream pipeline under the Baltic Sea. Mr. Schmitt said Russia was also using military action in Syria as leverage by controlling the flow of refugees into Germany.
“It seems like Putin is getting his way in Europe,’’ said Mr. Schmitt, a former staff director of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence who is co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies.
Mr. Steingart responded that economic sanctions supported by the West, including Germany, had had no effect on Russia and only increased tensions in Europe. “Russia has to be allowed to be part of the solution,’’ Mr. Steingart said.
Jeff Gedmin, the former president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, U.S. global broadcasters, said rising economic and social tensions in Europe caused in part by the refugee migration crisis had raised concerns in Washington that Europe could effectively rise to the multiple challenges. The potential rise of a far-right government in France and Britain’s possible departure from the European Union could redefine relationships on the continent, he said, and not in a good way.
“I’m not a euro-skeptic anymore,’’ said Mr. Gedmin, a senior fellow at Georgetown University. “But I am afraid that the E.U. could come apart and not in a smooth, amicable way.’’
The United States, Mr. Gedmin said, “has no clear idea of what Europe should look like.’’
Mr. Steingart said Germany and Europe have no coherent solution to the refugee crisis, and the challenges of integrating 1.1 million people from Syria and Iraq have been underestimated. European leaders, including Ms. Merkel, are not addressing the challenges, nor are they coming up with clear positions on key issues such as job retraining and cultural integration.
“Leaders in Europe are just muddling through,’’ Mr. Steingart said.
Ulrich Speck, a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy, a Washington think tank, said a good part of Germany still backed Angela Merkel’s open-doors policy to the refugee crisis. In state elections last Sunday, leading political candidates in Rhineland-Palatinate and in Baden-Württemberg who supported Ms. Merkel’s positions prevailed, he noted.
“The situation is not as pessimistic as some paint it to be,’’ Mr. Speck, who is German, said.