Figures released this month have indicated that the number of people applying for asylum in Germany has dropped steeply, a sign that an agreement between the European Union (EU) and Turkey to stem the flow of migrants is working.
According to the interior ministry, around 47,300 people arrived in Germany between January and March 2017, noting that most were from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. During the same period a year ago, 60,000 applied for asylum. The German office for migration and refugees ruled on 222,395 asylum applications from January to March. About half of the individuals were allowed to stay in the country for the time being and only a fifth were granted full refugee status. Migrants who arrive in Germany are first registered at reception centres, where they have to wait for months before they can file an asylum application, which creates a huge backlog. The ministry had disclosed that at the end of March, there were still 278,000 outstanding applications that needed to be processed.
In the past two years, the huge influx of migrants to Germany has impacted Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity ahead of national elections due to take place in September. It has also fuelled the rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The AfD however has seen its support plunge in polls since the sharp slowdown in the flow of migrants after the deal between the EU and Ankara was reached a year ago.
Late on Wednesday 15 March, Prime Minister Mark Rutte stated that Dutch people rejected the wrong kind of populism, as he celebrated victory in the election.
The Prime Ministers centre-right VVD party lead positioned him for a third successive term as prime minister and easily beat the anti-immigration Freedom party of Geert Wilders. With all but two vote counts complete, the prime ministers party won 33 out of 150 seats a loss of eight seats from the previous parliament. The Freedom party came in second place with 20 seats, a gain of fiv, while the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the liberal D66 party, tied for third with 19 seats each. The Green-left party gained 14 seats, an increase of 10. The Labour Party (PvdA), which is the junior party in the governing coalition, suffered a historic defeat by winning only nine seats a loss of 29. Labours defeat appeared to signal that voters were shifting to the right, as many of the seats it lost did not go to other left-wing parties. Voter turnout was 80.2% – the highest for thirty years, with analysts saying that this may have benefited pro-EU and liberal parties.
The Dutch race was seen as a test of support for nationalist parties that have been gaining ground across Europe. Mr Wilders however has insisted that the patriotic spring would still happen.
Fellow eurozone countries France and Germany also face elections this year. France will hold its first round of voting in its presidential election on 23 April, with the second round being held on 7 May. The far right National Front is forecast to increase its vote dramatically. Meanwhile, Germany will hold its general election in September, where the popularist Alternative for German (AfD) may win seats in parliament for the first time. Mr Rutte had already spoken of the election as a quarter-final against populism, ahead of the French and German polls, and his victory was warmly greeted by other European leaders and politicians. French President Francois Holland stated that Mr Rutte had won a clear victory against extremism, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed a very pro-European result, a clear signaland a good day for democracy. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised Dutch voters for their responsibility, while Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament until earlier this year, stated that he was relieved that the Freedom Party had lost, adding we must continue to fight for an open and free Europe.
Germany’s centre-right Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that she will run for a fourth term in office.
She told her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Berlin that she expected her toughest campaign yet and would “fight for our values and our way of life.” An election is due to be held next year after four years of coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD). Speaking to reporters, Mrs Merkel disclosed that the decision to run for a fourth term had been “anything but trivial after 11 years in office,” adding that she expected challenges from both the right and the left of the political spectrum.
While Mrs Merkel’s poll ratings have slipped since the height of her popularity, she retains wide support. A poll for one Sunday newspaper found that 55% of Germans would vote for her. However she will be battling the tide of populism that swept Donald Trump to victory in the Untied States and which is also washing across Europe.
The Chancellor, who has been in office since 2005, is also being challenged by the populist right-wing AfD party. In September, she accepted responsibility for election defeats for the CDU in several states, conceding that her open-door policy towards migrants had been a factor. Earlier this year, the head of the country’s federal office for migration and refugees disclosed that Germany expected up to 300,000 migrants to arrive in the country this year. Last year, it received more than a million applications for asylum.
If she win’s next year’s general election, which is due to take place between August and October, she will equal the post-war record set by Helmut Kohl, who was chancellor from 1982 to 1998. Germany does not have term limits on the country’s top job.
Merkel’s Three Terms in Office:
2005 – 2009
- November 2005 – Becomes Germany’s first female leader after stalemate elections result in grand coalition
- September 2007 – Holds historic talks with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, in a move that angers China
2009 – 2013
- June 2010 – Merkel’s fiscal austerity programme to deal with the eurozone crisis is approved
- October 2010 – Merkel states that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have “utterly failed”
- May 2011 – Merkel states that a nuclear phase-out by 2022 can make Germany trailblazer
- June 2012 – Chancellor urges the European Union political union, calling for “more Europe
- 2013 – Claims emerge that a US spy agency tapped Merkel’s phone, in a move that strains German-US ties.
2013 – Present
- February 2015 – Merkel, along with French President Francois Hollande, brokers a deal aimed to stop fighting in eastern Ukraine
- December 2015 – Merkel is named as Person of the Year by Time magazine
- March/September 2015 – CPU suffers defeats in regional polls, with Merkel admitting that her immigration policies were a key factor.
- November 2015 – In the wake of a deadly terrorist attack in Paris, France, Merkel’s government pledges to deploy aircraft and a navy ship to fight the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Syria
This month, diplomats and MPs struck a deal to end an internal EU dispute, which will result in the EU soon letting Ukrainians and Georgians visit the bloc without needed a visa. The dispute had been holding up the promised measures.
Agreement on a mechanism to suspend such visa waivers in emergencies has effectively ended mounting embarrassment for those EU leaders who felt that the bloc was reneging on pledges to former Soviet states that it has promised to help as they try to move out from Moscow’s shadow. The move came after the European Council President warned that the EU was risking its credibility by failing to reward Georgia and Ukraine for painful reforms. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has since hailed the move as “encouraging news from Brussels.”
The prospect of easier travel to Western European countries has been used by governments in Kiev and Tbilisi in order to win popular backing for painful, EU-sponsored reforms. However EU leaders got cold feet about opening doors to 45 million Ukrainians after the public backlash that followed last year’s refugee crisis in Europe. Furthermore, facing strong challenges from anti-immigration parties in elections next year, leading powers France and Germany demanded strong controls before any visa agreement was signed. Late-night talks have since resulted in the European Parliament conceding that governments can reimpose visa requirements quickly, with MPs’ approval.
Georgia, which has only 5 million citizens, has long been seen as being ready for visa liberalization. However many believe that its failure to achieve such as agreement has been due to the EU’s hesitation over Ukraine, which is bigger, closer and currently stuck in conflict with Russia. A similar plan to ease travel for Turkey’s 75 million citizens, which is part of a deal whereby Ankara has helped the EU shut out Syrians and other people seeking asylum, has added to political sensitivities in Brussels about the issue. The process with Turkey has been frozen because of Ankara’s failure to fulfil all the EU conditions, coupled with anger across Europe at Turkey’s crackdown on opponents following a coup attempt in July.
The bloc has disclosed that any new visa waivers can only come into force after the EU has increased an emergency brake to suspend any free-travel deals in emergencies. However talks on exactly how that “snap-back” mechanism would work have dragged on for months. It will now allow the executive European Commission or a majority of EU states to suspend swiftly a country’s visa exemption for nine months if there is a sharp rise in its citizens overstaying their permitted time in the EU making multiple asylum requests or other problem for th European. The EU would be able to extend the suspension period for a further eighteen months in some cases, however through amore complex procedure that would also give a say to the European Parliament.
Germany’s plan of conducting security investigations of all military recruits appears to be more and more a concrete reality.
German media reported on 5 November that the military counter-intelligence service (MAD) identified 20 Islamists in the country’s armed forces. An agency’s spokesman confirmed the figure later, adding that other 60 potential cases are under investigation for suspected links to Islamist militants.
Early in 2015, MAD had already warned that extremists could have potentially taken advance of the German Military to gain skills that they could then take to groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Reportedly, in fact, Daesh and other terrorist organizations were actively encouraging their followers to join states military forces to get training. This seemed to be confirmed, according to MAD President Christof Gramm, by the fact that, for example, the killers who launched an attack on the Paris magazine Charlie Hebdo had military skills.
Two months after this attack, Gramm proposed for the first time an initial check for applicants to armed services.
After multiple Islamist militant attacks that shook Germany in July this year, the German government decided in August to allow preliminary background checks on recruits to be done starting in July 2017. At that time it was reported that more than 300 German soldiers were being investigated for some forms of suspected extremism: 268 suspected right-wing extremists, 64 suspected Islamists and six suspected left-wing extremists.
According to MAD it has been decided to speed things up after recruitment offices across the country have reported increasing individual inquiries from applicants expressing a commitment request to join the German Military (Bundeswehr) of only few months and expressly interested in intensive weapons and equipment training.
Currently, under German military law, recruits only need to present their police records and formally agree to comply with the German constitution to enlist; moreover just service members that have already enlisted, including soldiers and officers, are vetted.
The new measure, if adopted, would allow conducting comprehensive background checks on all applicants as of January 2017 and it would result in at least 20,000 screenings annually, causing some €8.2 billion in additional expenditures.
The German army is regarded as one of Europe’s most capable in terms of training. During army boot camp, recruits are taught shooting and marksmanship skills, map reading and topography, and the fundamentals of woodland and urban warfare, as well as to give emergency aid. Having said that, it is evident that Islamic infiltrations in the national army constitute a serious risk not only for insider attacks in country but also for the rest of Europe.
However, this measure has received critics from several parts of the public opinion, both in Germany and outside. The Measure is, in fact, considered in line with the questioned new state defence plan put in place in August, which entails for citizens to stockpile food and water enough to last for at least ten days, in the event of a major disaster or armed attack.
According to its critics, the German government seems concentrating its efforts just on radical Islam, when the country is relatively safe in comparison to France and other nations. There would be instead other areas that need particular attention like right and left wing extremists.