An Abiding German Lie

Eine deutsche Lebenslüge Cicero Magazin für Politische Kulture, 22nd November 2018. Friedrich Merz raised the question during his bid for the CDU party chairmanship at the third regional conference: whether or not the asylum law is sustainable in its current form. He can expect outraged reactions. But it was high time the topic was put on the table.


It’s strange: the more often the issue of migration is raised by some CDU grandees,  the less it seems to interest most citizens, and the more intensively it occupies the Union itself. The current dispute over the UN Migration Pact () makes it abundantly clear: what occupies people’s minds cannot be imposed from above. And the CDU is developing these days at a downright breathtaking pace from a Merkel-party to a people’s party. This is because touchy issues such as asylum and migration are being ever more openly debated. It’s as though somebody at Union HQ had flung open the windows in order, finally, to flush out the stink of moral cowardice of the Merkel years.

In his run for the party chairmanship, Friedrich Merz has now opened up the mother and father of all taboos for discussion. At the regional conference yesterday in the Thuringian town of Seebach, he questioned — one could almost say in passing — the fundamental right to asylum. Germany was, he said, “the only country in the world, in which an individual’s right to asylum is enshrined in the constitution”. But if one seriously wanted to pursue a common European immigration and refugee policy, then one must talk openly about whether this fundamental right to asylum “could continue in its present form”. Merz knows that he has thereby conjured up such a storm, that Hurricane Florence would look like a gentle breeze in comparison. This is because it touches on a German taboo.

“It’s as though somebody at Union HQ had flung open the windows in order, finally, to flush out the stink of moral cowardice of the Merkel years.”

The fundamental right to asylum was already by no means uncontroversial within the Parliamentary Council, but as the increasingly pungent legend now insists, Article 16a (formerly Article 16) is a doctrine that has entered into constitutional law as a reaction to National Socialism. While this is not true, it does not alter the fact that this constitutional norm has become the symbol of a ‘Better Germany’, a country that has effectively overcome the horrors of its past with a particularly demanding moral code. That’s why it’s so difficult to talk soberly about whether the architects of the Basic Law could have foreseen today’s conditions.

Just as a reminder: between January and October this year, 186,886 decisions were taken on asylum applications, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BaMF, Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge). The acceptance rate for valid asylum applications, within the meaning of Article 16a, was 1.3%. In previous years it was never more than 1.8% (2014), and sometimes even significantly less (0.3% in 2016). This demonstrates the enormous gap between the expectations of many migrants and German constitutional reality. It would be downright grotesque not to address this blatant mismatch, especially since in many parts of the world the word “asylum” in connection with “Germany” is still seen as a sort of passport to a better future.

In fact, many Members of the Bundestag — and certainly not only those of the CDU or CSU — are asking whether the basic German right to asylum can or should be maintained in times of enormous and even growing migratory pressure. To date, this has never happened publicly. Too great was the fear of being put into the populist-nationalist corner in such a debate. As the historian Heinrich August Winkler — incidentally a social democrat — pointed out more than three years ago, “If great masses of the politically persecuted, or of people who purport to be so, claim this right in Germany at the same time, then an acute danger arises”. It would be “unrealistic” to expect other EU states, that do not offer such an extensive right to asylum, to fall into line with German practice.

‭”Many Members of the Bundestag are asking whether the basic German right to asylum can or should be maintained in times of enormous and even growing migratory pressure.”

Winkler advocates instead a European solution. The EU must “accept asylum applications at new reception centres or in its diplomatic missions, process them, and forward those approved to the Member States according to an agreed formula”. No doubt Friedrich Merz would have had nothing more than this in mind when he expressed yesterday his supposedly scandalous ideas. It was beyond high time to finally bring this abiding German lie out into the open. Cicero