Gentle Germany

Merkel Wins Plaudits for Refugee Response

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel (CDU) folgt am Freitag (18.11.2011) dem Kongress "Zeitschriftentag 2011 des Verbands Deutscher Zeitschriftenverleger (VDZ) in Berlin. Unter dem Motto "Zeitschriftenverleger - Gestalter der neuen Medienwelt" treffen sich Vertreter der Medienbranche zu einer zweitägigen Veranstaltung. Foto: Hannibal dpa/lbn [ Rechtehinweis: usage Germany only, Verwendung nur in Deutschland ]
"Mutti" is garnering global praise for her refugee response.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany is welcoming thousands of refugees, boosting its reputation and potentially easing its labor shortage in one move.

  • Facts


    The United States has only accepted 1,000 Syrian refugees to date.

    Some warn that Germany could be biting off more than it can chew.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel is using the positive press to exert pressure on other countries to accept more refugees.

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This week, Israeli daily Haaretz published an article with the headline: “Germany, Light Unto the Nations of the World.” The tenor of the article is that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is proving that it is possible to learn from history. According to Haaretz, Ms. Merkel has opened the gates of Berlin to refugees fleeing certain death. “Good for you, Germany,” the article continues.

The world is being inundated with images of a Germany where cheering people welcome refugees with open arms. The notion of a German chancellor who is opening the borders instead of merely preaching austerity to other countries has shaken stereotypes.

The Italian media have been discussing this strange new Germany for days. During the Greek crisis, Ms. Merkel was often depicted wearing a Prussian military helmet. Now the media are trying to explain her transformation. The Italian daily Corriere della Sera devoted an entire page to the phenomenon, in a story titled “The German Spirit.” La Repubblica, another Italian newspaper, wrote: “Merkel’s Transformation: Berlin Chooses the Good Face.”

For her part Ms. Merkel, who had initially been chided at home for her timid handling of the influx of refugees, is using the positive response to her about-face to exert pressure on other countries. “We simply have to pitch in and overcome all obstacles,” she said yesterday in the German parliament. “If we are courageous and sometimes lead the way, we are more likely to find a European solution.”

The only place Ms. Merkel’s munificence has not been praised is in Greece.

Ms. Merkel’s opening of the border makes other leaders appear as “parodies of male, flat, inhuman power,” writes Germany expert Carlo Bastasin in the Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

The Washington Post expressed a very similar view, writing: “Ms. Merkel’s response to the crisis has been a bright spot in a bleak landscape — a tableau of shame that extends to the United States, which has accepted less than 1,000 Syrians to date.”

While commentators are warning that Germany could be biting off more than it can chew, praise for the country’s treatment of the refugees has dominated headlines in recent days. The British press sees Germany as an alternative model to its own country, and Ms. Merkel as an “angel of mercy” and a farsighted leader who is responding to the demands of the hour, in contrast to British Prime Minister David Cameron. In its “Espresso” blog, the Economist writes about “Merkel’s Moment: Germany, Generosity, Glory.”

Praise for Ms. Merkel has also come from two business publications, the Financial Times and the Economist, which have long criticized the anti-immigration sentiments in Britain. Even the New Statesman, which depicted Ms. Merkel wearing a Terminator outfit and dubbed her “Europe’s Destroyer” on its cover not too long ago, now portrays her as a role model.

In the Arab world, Ms. Merkel is being extolled as a “new Arab saint,” no longer a cold politician but a hero. She is even being praised as the “Mother Teresa of Europe” in social networks. In Colombia, daily newspaper El Tiempo calls her “Mamá Merkel,” and writes: “Germany is the new promised land for the hopeless and the oppressed.” It also notes that Germany’s current actions are particularly remarkable, given that, in a darker time, it was once a country from which people fled.

Neighboring Austria almost seems a little jealous of all the international acclaim for Germany. None of the refugees at the Budapest train station was holding up a sign that read “Austria.” Some Austrians were astonished at how genuine and emotional thousands of German citizens were in welcoming the refugees.

The only place Ms. Merkel’s munificence has not been praised is in Greece. This is partly because the country is still struggling to deal with the vast numbers of refugees, especially from the Balkans, arriving on its shores. Greece is also about to hold a general election: the latest stage in its ongoing saga about bailouts, austerity, and whether it should accept German-led reforms. For this one country at least, Germany is still the same stern taskmaster it ever was.


Nicole Bastian works at Handelsblatt’s foreign affairs desk. Klaus Ehringfeld, Pierre Heumann, Katharina Kort, Hans-Peter Siebenhaar, Matthias Thibaut, and Frank Wiebe are Handelsblatt’s correspondents in Mexico, Israel, Italy, Austria, the United Kingdom and the United States respectively.To contact the authors:,,,,,

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