Günther Oettinger

Asylum ‘Magnet’ Becomes a Wedge

European Commissioner Günther Oettinger has become the latest German conservative to ask Chancellor Angela Merkel to reverse her open-door policy on Syrian refugees.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    E.U. Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s call for Germany to change its open-door refugee policy is the latest appeal to Angela Merkel to reverse course.

  • Facts


    • The state premier of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt has also called for Ms. Merkel to cap on the number of refugees Germany will accept.
    • Ms. Merkel’s Bavarian political allies, the Christian Social Union, want Ms. Merkel to halt the flow of refugees into the country.
    • Germany’s left-leaning Social Democrats and opposition Greens are opposed to limiting the number of refugees.
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Günther Oettinger, a member of Germany’s conservative party and a European Commissioner, has called on lawmakers to rewrite the country’s liberal asylum laws to limit the number of people who have the right to stay in Germany.

“The German right of asylum acts like a magnet for refugees,” said Mr. Oettinger, the commissioner in charge of the 28-nation bloc’s digital agenda and a member of Ms. Merkel’s own Christian Democrat party, in an interview with Handelsblatt.

Mr. Oettinger, a former political rival to Ms. Merkel, joined a growing list of German conservatives pressuring their chancellor to reverse course and limit the number of refugees streaming into Germany. The government officially expects up to 1 million refugees to enter the country this year, although statistics are not up to date and some expect the total to be much higher, perhaps 1.5 million.

Ms. Merkel has so far resisted calls to limit the refugee flow, although her coalition shows increasing signs of strain.

While the German chancellor has refused to set numerical caps on the number of refugees, Ms. Merkel has endorsed a move to create allotments each year that limit how many refugees can be admitted from each country. But such as proposal would have to win approval in the Bundestag.

“As long as this is not tackled, there is really only one alternative: Billions in aid for refugee camps in Turkey and other countries. ”

Günther Oettinger, E.U. commissioner and CDU member

In the interview, Mr. Oettinger, a regional politician from the Stuttgart area, said the number of refugees coming to Germany can only be reduced if there is less incentive for people to come to the country. He did not specify how Germany’s constitutional right of asylum should be changed or limited.

But he recommended changes to Germany’s constitution to “re-order” the right of asylum. He acknowledged that Germany’s left-leaning Social Democrats, the junior partner in Ms. Merkel’s ruling coalition, and the Green Party were unlikely to consider such a move.

“As long as this is not tackled, there is really only one alternative: Billions in aid for refugee camps in Turkey and other countries,” Mr. Oettinger said.

The European Union can only participate in “a limited way” in financing refugee operations, he said, claiming there was no room in the E.U. budget. About four in every 10 euros in E.U. spending go to agricultural subsidies in the bloc, reflecting the union’s origins in common farm policies.


Schauble DPA Olivier Hoslet
The German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has emerged as a potential rival to Angela Merkel for the German chancellorship in 2017. But it is unclear whether Mr. Schäuble, who is 73, wants or will have the chance to oust Ms. Merkel. Source: DPA


Mr. Oettinger called for better border controls in Europe, saying the number of border agents should be about 10 times its current level — 5,000 rather than the current 500.  He said every E.U. member state should contribute resources and personnel, although E.U. nations in general have refused to cooperate in the refugee crisis, with most countries aside from Germany and Sweden refusing to take in the refugees.

Ms. Merkel’s refugee policy is coming under fire ahead of her party’s annual convention in Karlsruhe next month.

Rainer Haseloff, the state premier of Saxony-Anhalt, last weekend told Handelsblatt that Ms. Merkel’s party should cap the number of refugees. Horst Seehofer, Bavaria’s state premier, has been leading the call for caps, and last weekend publicly lambasted Ms. Merkel while she attended a party conference in Munich. Mr. Seeohofer’s Christian Social Union party is the Bavarian offshoot of Ms. Merkel’s conservatives.

Other party allies of Ms. Merkel, such as Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, and its finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, have both questioned her open-door approach to the refugee crisis.

Some younger conservatives have also joined the chorus. The Junge Union, the youth wing in Ms. Merkel’s party, says it plans to make a motion to impose a refugee cap at the party’s annual convention in December.

This week marks Ms. Merkel’s tenth year as Germany’s chancellor. The refugee crisis is threatening her hold on power, said German political scientist Heinrich Oberreuter, a long-time member of the Bavarian wing of Ms. Merkel’s conservatives.


Merkel After Schaeuble Gebriel Seehofer popularity poll survey-01


“This really can lead to an erosion of Angela Merkel’s power – and ultimately to her loss of office,” Mr. Oberreuter told Handelsblatt. “If it were to come to a resignation or a loss of office in 2016, pundits would say this development began in 2015 with the refugee crisis.”

In such an event, Mr. Schäuble could emerge as a “transition chancellor,” he said.

But it remains far from certain that the situation will spin so far out of control for Ms. Merkel.

Ms. Merkel, who has appealed to other E.U. countries for an international solution to the refugee crisis, still has the support of loyalists such as Thomas Strobl und Julia Klöckner, who plan to address rank-and-file concerns at their party’s convention next month.

On Monday, Ms. Merkel received a broad show of support during a private meeting with other Christian Democrats, including a standing ovation and long applause. Among those voicing support for Ms. Merkel was Gerda Hassenfeldt, a leader of the Bavarian conservatives group.

Ms. Hassenfeldt promised the chancellor the support of the Bavarian regional parliamentary faction of the CSU, which she leads. The group will do everything it can to assure Ms. Merkel remains chancellor “for many years to come,” she said, according to participants at the meeting.


Refugees Border DPA
Refugees lining up in Austria to enter Germany in early November. Source: DPA


The endorsement puts Ms. Hassenfeldt in conflict with the head of her Bavarian party, Mr. Seehofer, who has bluntly demanded Ms. Merkel impose a cap on refugees, something she has refused to do. Ms. Hassenfeldt isn’t the only conservative who is questioning whether a cap is practical or enforcable.

“How does one implement it if has been missed by an order of magnitude?” asked Mr. de Maizière at recent Bundestag debate.

Like Ms. Merkel, the interior minister wants E.U. countries to help shoulder the refugee load — something all except Sweden have refused to do. Mr. de Maiziere called for “fair distribution” of refugees throughout the European Union.


Daniel Delhaes, Till Hoppe and Dietmar Neuerer are editors at Handelsblatt. To reach them: delhaes@handelsblatt.com, hoppe@handelsblatt.com and neuerer@handelsblatt.com


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