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Germany’s asylum policy: Moral duty meets national interest

Germany is being lauded for its plans to accommodate up to 800,000 refugees in 2015 writes Timo Lochocki. This is the highest per capita intake of refugees in Europe, and in comparison to last year, it is four times as many as arrived in Germany and six times as many as France and the UK together. While commentary after these plans were revealed has swung between appreciation and astonishment, this decision lies at the very core of German national interests. If the admission of this many refugees is successful, it could solve four pressing issues for German policymakers.

First, Germany’s exemplary refugee policy improves its negotiating position in European Union affairs. Either Germany will succeed in convincing other EU member states to join a common EU asylum policy regime to ease the strain on its own borders, or it will hold the perfect bargaining chip for other negotiations to come. Whatever the topic on the agenda, Germany can point to its over-delivery on a key European policy issue. This will boost Germany’s power in European affairs even more.

It is also a great public relations move for German power in Europe. The country’s international standing has suffered from its handling of the recent euro crises. The Federal Republic has been portrayed as the heartless hegemon of Europe’s north, imposing austerity measures on southern countries like Greece. Germany’s standing suffered the most with commentators from the left, outspoken intellectuals, and, of course, the southern European countries. Such criticism becomes less sustainable if Germany can be portrayed as a country easing the strain on refugees coming to southern Europe. Germany’s image as Europe’s “benign hegemon,” leading by generous example, could gain traction.

These implications for EU affairs and Germany’s international standing are already palpable. However, if its refugee policies triumph, the German government can also demonstrate to its own electorate how well-equipped it is to solve major problems. Accommodating 800,000 refugees calls for trebling German administrative and governance capacities almost overnight, including various related administrative, law enforcement, and infrastructure services. This is a moment for German politicians to showcase the substantial resources the government can mobilize. If the government succeeds here, it will further boost the already strong support of the established political parties with the German electorate. In other words, the successful handling of the refugee situation would further increase the appeal of the governing center-right Christian Democrats-Christian Social Union and the center-left Social Democrats and would sideline left- and right-wing populists.

Finally, integrating even a few of these refugees into the German job market could ease the demographic pressures on the German economy. As a conservative mayor in one of Germany’s shrinking eastern cities put it last year: “Immigration is our only hope for survival.” An ageing population is among the greatest challenges Germany faces in the coming decades. If German integration policies succeed in helping the new immigrants to cope with both their traumatic experiences and the German language barrier, this intake of refugees offers a great opportunity. These highly skilled, motivated migrants, many of whom unfortunately have very low prospects of returning to their home countries, could significantly boost the German economy in the medium term. In the long run, this could prove a valuable starting point for Germany to position itself as “Europe’s Canada” — a safe haven with excellent prospects for high-skilled international migrants.

Germany’s pragmatic acceptance of the expected 800,000 refugees in 2015 is the right decision by all moral and humanitarian standards. However, it also presents great opportunities that lie at the heart of the national interest of the Federal Republic. Germany’s power within the EU could increase and its image as a benign hegemon could gains traction. Even further, if the German government succeeds in seamlessly integrating these migrants into the German society (which, of course, is by no means assured), it would be beneficial for German politics and could substantially ease its demographic pressures. It is not often that a country’s moral duty and its national interests have aligned so perfectly.

Timo Lochocki is based in Berlin and is a transatlantic fellow with The German Marshall Fund (GMF). This article was first published by the GMF.


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