Speech delivered to the Centre for Independent Studies’ Consilium conference, Sanctuary Cove (Queensland), 30 July 2016.
Thank you for the invitation to Consilium. It is great to be back, although I notice that I only get invited to speak when the topics are particularly gloomy.
So I guess you only invite me when you want to hear about the imminent end of the world.
And that is the niche I have carved for myself in the market for conference speakers: the gloomy German.
But then again, gloomy German is a bit of a tautology. You know, like ‘black darkness’, ‘burning fire’ or ‘well-governed Australia’.
So, anyway, the crisis I am supposed to speak about today is the ‘Human Tsunami’ – the wave of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East who are trying to make their way towards Europe.
In my talk today, I do not want to focus on the political and economic instability of these regions: Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. The other speakers in this session are much more qualified than I am to talk about this.
Instead, what I would like to do is to shed some light on Germany.
Within Europe, Germany is the key player in the refugee crisis. It is not just that most migrants see Germany as the country of their dreams. It is also true that Germany’s actions have shaped the development of the crisis.
So we need to understand Germany to analyse the crisis. We also need to know a little about the German psyche to understand Germany’s reactions to the stream of refugees – 1.1 million last year and another 220,000 since January.
The first thing you need to know about the Germans is that they love order.
I know, this sounds too much like a cliché but I cannot help it: It’s true.
And sometimes this love of order can be maddening, especially if you are from the more relaxed English-speaking world.
Just to illustrate this love of order, let me digress slightly and tell you about my recent experience of applying for a passport for my son at the German embassy in Wellington.
My son Leo is a German citizen by birth. He is a healthy three-year-old boy who speaks German better than he speaks English. I had previously been told, by German diplomats, that getting the passport for him would be a piece of cake.
Well, not quite. As it turned out, the marriage between my Australian wife and me – we got married in London – required a confirmation of our family name under German family law. Apparently, just having the same surname in our passports and on Leo’s birth certificate is not sufficient.
For this official German surname declaration we needed a so-called apostille from the New Zealand authorities to confirm the validity of our son’s birth certificate.
Meanwhile, the copy of my birth certificate, certified by the German police, was not deemed good enough because it ought to have been certified by the German registrar’s office.
And finally I was cheeky enough to forget bringing along my certificate of deregistration from the German registration office. So I had no proof I had actually emigrated. Except for my passport issued by the German Embassy in New Zealand.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, because I just wanted to demonstrate to you how complicated Germany can be. And that the Germans believe that everything needs to be that complicated in order to work properly. And that it needs to be so to maintain stability, order and the rule of law.
If it is not expressly allowed, it is forbidden. That’s the German rule, and rules must be obeyed at all times. After all, that’s how we lost the War.
So imagine this rule-obsessed, order-loving Germany when the refugee crisis peaked in the second half of 2015.
There were days when more than 10,000 refugees crossed the Austrian-German border.
Most of them did not speak a word of German.
Many of them did not have any travel documents.
Few of them would have had properly certified birth certificates, let alone a name declaration valid under German family law.
But none of this mattered. The border was opened by Chancellor Angela Merkel. For a moment, she presented herself as the incarnation of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
It was utter chaos at the German border. The refugees were flooding in, and the German authorities had given up any semblance of control. They were not checking passports. They were not even counting the number of arrivals.
This loss of control and order was the biggest shock to the German public who watched this development with increasing horror.
Just a few snapshots demonstrate how the border situation descended into anarchy.
A TV documentary showed the working day of a border guard. The young officer was helpless and explained that normally she would be required to arrest anyone entering the country without valid travel documents. But of course the political situation required her to do the exact opposite. Technically speaking, she was acting illegally – and she knew it. But what could she do?
The state government of Hamburg went one step further. The police minister’s office informed the police force that despite the obvious illegality of the situation, police officers should not prosecute refugees. The Federal Chancellor had effectively decided that the laws of the country should no longer be applied.
Or consider a verdict of the District Court of Passau. The court had to decide on the case of a Serbian people smuggler and only handed him a mild suspended sentence. Why?
Well, let me quote the judge: “Considering the situation at the border, the legal order has been suspended by Germany’s political leadership. Asylum seekers have been invited by the Federal Chancellor to come to Germany. This is why no immediate prison sentence would be appropriate in this case.”
There is a technical term for all of this, and it is called ‘obstruction of justice’.
Or, to say it in the words of Hans-Jürgen Papier, the former President of Germany’s Constitutional Court, “never before has there been such a discrepancy between the law and reality”.
According to the classic legal definition given, states consist of three essential elements: territory, people and power.
So Germany’s actions in the refugee crisis go to the heart of its statehood. Giving up on the protection of its borders, allowing unlimited and unchecked migration and not enforcing its laws: This is no longer a properly functioning democratic state. This is what a failed state looks like.
You do not have to take my word for it. You can read about it in a legal opinion prepared by Udo di Fabio, a former justice of the Constitutional Court.
Now, you may say that such a look at the refugee crisis is awfully legalistic. But the loss of control is not just a theoretical problem. It is a practical challenge and it has political consequences.
The German public is losing trust in the political system. It no longer believes that the government is able to keep the peace and maintain public safety.
This impression is confirmed by events. Think of the riots that happened in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, when thousands of recent migrants robbed and sexually assaulted women in the city centre. Think of last week’s terrorist incident when a young refugee attacked fellow travellers on a regional train in Bavaria. And think of the Syrian refugee who blew himself up in Ansbach last Sunday, Germany’s first ever suicide bombing.
Trust in the functioning of the country’s government has been undermined. You can see this reflected in opinion polls which show a fracturing of the political landscape.
But it is not just the legal and political system that is suffering damage from the refugee crisis. It poses an economic burden on Germany as well.
Allowing vast numbers of poorly qualified migrants into the country is a costly exercise.
Bernd Raffelhüschen, Germany’s leading expert on generational accounting, calculated that integrating refugees would result in a total cost of somewhere between €870 billion and €1.5 trillion depending on how fast they integrate into the labour market.
We should not expect quick successes here: According to the Federal Employment Agency, 74 percent of all refugees do not have any job qualifications. So far, the largest 30 German companies have only employed 54 refugees – 50 of whom were hired by German Post.
So the damage caused by Chancellor Merkel’s open-door policy is significant. Her actions have undermined trust in the political system, given rise to populist parties, and created significant social and economic costs.
We could add to the list of problems caused by Merkel, Europe’s new dependence on Turkey for the solution of the crisis.
And I would also argue that Merkel has to take some responsibility for the deaths of migrants along the route to Germany. Because they did not come straight out of war-torn Syria but out of refugee camps in neighbouring countries.
Of course, these refugee camps were not the most pleasant places to be. But they were safe.
Germany and Merkel are often praised for “saving” refugees. The opposite is true. They have lured refugees onto a dangerous route and into an economic situation that offers few of them any positive perspective. They have encouraged these poor Syrians to give all their savings to dubious people traffickers and board unsafe boats. And along this route, thousands of refugees have drowned and died.
As Sir Paul Collier, the Oxford economist and former World Bank Director, said it would have been much better to deal with Syrian refugees in those safe countries bordering Syria: Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. If it had wanted to do something good, Germany could have helped to pay for these camps. But it did not.
By the way, this solution is actually the one prescribed by international law under the Geneva Convention and the Dublin Regulation. There has long been the “first country of asylum” principle. This means that countries are expected to take refugees fleeing from persecution in a neighbouring state.
Germany has no border with Syria, and there are plenty of safe countries between Germany and Syria. Even Austria is relatively civilised. Germany should have never signalled its willingness to accept all Syrian refugees.
By financing refugee camps close to Syria, Germany would have offered these refugees a better, safer perspective. It would have also made it easier for the Syrians to return to their home country once the war is over. Because Syria will need its people for the eventual reconstruction.
So in conclusion, Merkel’s refugee policy was a big mistake. It is a policy that cost the lives of thousands of Syrians, it has politically destabilised Germany and Europe and will cost hundreds of billions. And yet it has done nothing to solve the source of the Syrian conflict.
Moralistic posturing is not a substitute for good policy. There is a difference between meaning well and doing good.
Maybe Merkel meant well. But that is the best you can say about her refugee policy.