How does Germany cope with the current refugee crisis? What’s the German standpoint vis-à-vis Russia? And what are the prospects for German liberals? Those were the main topics Dr. Ekkehard Klug, Member of the State Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein, Gisela Piltz, former Member of the Bundestag and Member of the Board of Trustees of FNF; and Dr. Matthias Schulenberg, Chairman of the FDP Federal Committee on Justice, had to address at a luncheon hosted by the Transatlantic Dialogue Program (TAD) of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Washington DC.
The greatest challenge facing Germany today: the large influx of refugees from the Middle East. The nation estimates that they will have taken in 1.5 million refugees in 2015 alone. The state of Schleswig-Holstein serves as a prime example of how this number will put a strain on the country: in 2010, Schleswig-Holstein had roughly three million inhabitants and 1,300 refugees. By the end of the year, the state estimates that it will play host to between 50,000 and 60,000 refugees. Many towns do not have the space or the resources to accommodate such a large influx. In addition, Germany has to find a way to successfully integrate refugees, helping them to understand and follow important societal norms such as religious tolerance and gender equality while avoiding conflict. The panelists proposed a number of strategies to maintain Germany’s capacity for accepting refugees. These included a policy of no permanent asylum, but rather a shorter period of refugee status (as was done with refugees fleeing the former Yugoslavia); stricter border control in an effort to know who exactly is coming into the country; and providing financial and administrative assistance to Greece and Italy to develop common quotas and improve registration of refugees.
A second global test facing Germany is the current maneuvering of Russia, which has developed into a danger to European stability as a whole. The panelists agreed that it has not yet become clear what role Russia can play internationally, particularly with regard to the refugee crisis, and they agreed that the United States and Europe must become united in their stance before a deal with Russia can be made. At the same time, it is clear that Vladimir Putin seeks to return to Russia’s former status as an important global player, if for no other reason than to increase support domestically.
Additionally, the group explained the current state of Germany’s “Free Democratic Party” (FDP). There was widespread consensus among the participants that Germany’s liberal party is on the right track to be voted back into the Bundestag in 2017, even though there is still a long way to go. After two state elections this year with favorable results, the FDP is hopeful that three upcoming state elections in March will propel them to an even higher margin of success. The party has also started focusing on “German Mut (Courage)” in an effort to put forward the idea that freedom is important and they see the opportunities that Germany can take advantage of, rather than focusing on German Angst. The party simultaneously remains a “voice of economic reason” that can position itself amongst parties that are moving further right or becoming more socialist.
This modified view of the FDP is also apparent in state polling; in Schleswig-Holstein, for example, the most recent poll put the party above eight percent. As a result, the mood within the FDP has improved – voters are becoming energized and more supportive, and successful elections in the city-states of Bremen and Hamburg have lifted the spirit of the party. The FDP is still looking to make strides in certain parts of Germany, however. Opinions on the party differ vastly between Eastern states and strongholds such as North-Rhine Westphalia or Baden-Württemberg.
The debate once more proved that many of nowadays challenges do not only affect Europe, but both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and it is important to continue to work to establish a united front between partners on both sides of the Atlantic. As Washington looks to Berlin to be a natural European leader in the years to come, TAD will continue to facilitate dialogue about the role of German leadership and cooperation between governments, think tanks, and NGOs in both North America and Europe.
Katrina Potts, Program Assistant, Transatlantic Dialogue Program