Angela Merkel has defended her refugee policy, insisting that there is no link between new arrivals in Germany and terrorism. We hope that she proves to be right – but experience gives German voters reason to doubt. Several recent attacks in Europe have been linked to refugees; in July a Syrian asylum-seeker blew himself up in Bavaria. That same month, Mrs Merkel admitted that refugee routes had been “used to smuggle terrorists”.
If the chancellor’s rhetoric is inconsistent then it may reflect the painful nuances of post-war German identity. Many Germans wish to atone for the past by adopting a self-consciously liberal approach to immigration. But the movement of people on the scale Mrs Merkel has unleashed brings with it new social problems – and the risk of a domestic backlash. The Alternative for Germany party is now doing well in the polls, the first time since 1945 that a nationalist party has flourished.
Still, Germany’s constitution is designed for stability and to avoid political change – so it is possible that even public disapproval of Mrs Merkel’s policies will not prevent her keeping her job after elections next year. Nevertheless, her reputation is imperilled. She has encouraged hundreds of thousands to risk a potentially deadly journey across sea and land. This not only endangered the travellers but destabilised the countries they passed through.
Images of Europe’s migration crisis may have influenced the Brexit vote – they certainly helped the European Right advance at the ballot box. An open-door migration policy is thus politically self-defeating. Mrs Merkel is deluded if she imagines Germany can sustain this pace of change.