Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He runs TRD Policy.
“All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered to me; and to whomsoever I will give it.”
There comes a time in every politician’s life when they hear these words of temptation, spoken to Jesus by the Devil, as related by the Gospel of St Luke.
As in 2015 migrants trudged through Belgrade and Budapest, tracing, by the brute force of geography — since it is simply the way to Germany — the routes once tramped by Ottoman soldiers; as rumours, fanned by Russian propaganda including fake stories of a girl being raped by a refugee, swirled though social and conventional media; as voters began to drift towards the anti-Muslim Alternativ fur Deutschland, these words could be heard within the Germany’s ruling CDU/CSU –
“This is too much. Close the borders. We can’t cope.” These were the acceptable arguments. Beneath them the unacceptable ones: “they’re terrorists, rapists – and we’re losing votes”.
Tolerance of and exploitation of hate is the last temptation of the Right. Some, like Viktor Orban, give into it completely. Others make excuses. They are merely expressing the “legitimate concerns” of the left-behind (retweets aren’t endorsements, you know). Those “citizens of nowhere” are just bankers and businessmen who don’t pay their taxes – not members of an ethnic group whose stereotypes include bankers, businessmen and George Soros.
Sebastian Kurz in Austria, Laurent Wauquiez in France, Pablo Casado in Spain and Horst Seehofer of Bavaria all gave in. It was a temptation Merkel resisted.
Her decision to let in a million refugees in a year was not spontaneous charity. She acted in the circumstances that presented themselves to her. The lesser men who would bring her down had no practical alternative. What would they have done, as Germans: tear up the German constitution, close the borders, detain them, and put them on sealed trains in their tens of thousands and send them — where, exactly?
But it also shows her limitations.
Asking any society to accept a million refugees from an unfamiliar culture is not an act of uncomplicated generosity. It takes courage, hard work, and a considerable amount of money. It needs an active effort to integrate them into their new equal and modern society, considerably different even from Syria’s urban centres, and the courage to understand that many will build permanent lives in Germany, as so many Germans built lives in America as they fled persecution before.
Germans responded to this need in their millions. Teaching the refugees German, helping them find accommodation, offering them apprenticeships in their companies and refusing to give into prejudice when it turns out that, as with any group of a million people, some of them turn out to be wrong uns.
But Merkel was unable to make it into a defining moment for her country. This should be remembered as Germany’s finest hour, but on the Right, in particular, it is now frequently called her greatest mistake. Hers is a politics very much in the spirit of Helmut Schmidt: “people who have visions should go to the doctor.” Asked to share what she thought happiness was, she famously replied “well-sealed windows.” Though any German visitor wintering in a damp and draughty British house would come round to her point of view, this doesn’t quite seem up to the mark.
Not for nothing could her 2017 election slogan be freely translated as “Sensible policies for a happier Germany.” Unable to own her radicalism, she now finds her party losing votes, not only to her right-wing rivals, but in significantly greater numbers to the Green Party: defenders of the policy for which she will always be remembered. The Greens are now second in the polls at 24 per cent to the CDU/CSU’s 27 per cent.
In the end, the losses were too great. After a recent, heavy setback in Hesse, she announced her intention to stay on as Chancellor, but let go of the party leadership.
The Union has consisted of an alliance that might crudely be described an alliance of business-churhgoing-and-national-conservatives. Each faction has a standard bearer: Friedrich Merz, Annegret Kramp Kennenbauer, and Jens Spahn. It finds itself paralysed by the question of whether Germany should become an “immigration country.” It is the Christians who have organised so much of the assistance to refugees, especially in rural areas, whereas the hard right will never forgive Merkel for letting them in.
At their conference in December, CDU delegates will have to decide which wing to sacrifice.