Merkel Ally Says Pandering to Populists Won't Help Old Parties

  • De Maiziere says pandering to populists won't help old parties
  • Interior minister cites neighboring Austria as failed model

Merkel on Track for Immigration Goals, Says De Maiziere

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that the European Union’s refugee deal with Turkey is at risk as proposals for visa-free travel for Turks run into turbulence.

De Maiziere, 62, a confidant of Chancellor Angela Merkel, made it clear the German leader won’t be diverted from her goal of stemming migration at the EU’s outer borders rather than within the 28-nation bloc. The EU’s refugee deal struck with Turkey in March is working, even though the country still needs to fulfill all of the conditions laid down in the pact, he said.

“We see the following risks: to start, that the accord between the EU and Turkey collapses due to the government crisis in Turkey, due to disagreements over the issue of visa liberalization,” de Maiziere, 62, said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Wednesday.

One of Merkel’s longest-serving cabinet members, de Maiziere’s acknowledgment of the risk of trouble ahead adds to signs that the accord reached with Ankara to curb the influx of refugees to Europe may come undone. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has stepped up his rhetoric challenging the EU, and a former Erdogan adviser said Wednesday that Turkey would send refugees to Europe should the EU Parliament make a “wrong decision” in the deliberations over visa-free status for Turkey.

“One shouldn’t take every interview with an adviser too seriously,” de Maiziere said in the interview at his ministry, across the Spree River in Berlin from Merkel’s chancellery. “Visa-free travel will come once Turkey fulfills the criteria it has to meet.” EU governments and the bloc’s parliament must then approve it, and “that will be hard,” he said.

De Maiziere credited the accord and border closings in the Western Balkans with drastically reducing the refugee influx to Germany this year, partly by signaling to migrants that most of them have no hope of winning asylum if they reach Greece from Turkey. The deal’s centerpiece is the EU’s offer of 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in aid in return for Turkey restricting the flow of refugees to Europe.

Pursuing Deals

“Naturally, we are very satisfied with the decline,” de Maiziere said. On Turkey, “we’re adamant that all the pieces of the agreement will be fulfilled, on both sides.”

Europe needs to pursue similar deals with North African countries such as Libya and Tunisia, though war and political instability make that effort “much more complicated,” he said.

“It’s a pretty long road,” de Maiziere said. “But we have to take it.”

De Maiziere, who is the minister charged with ensuring law and order in Germany, also hinted at her government’s emerging strategy for countering advances by Alternative for Germany, an anti-immigration party spurred by the arrival of some 1 million asylum seekers last year, the most since World War II. Polls suggest the party has as much as 15 percent voter support, enough to win seats in the federal parliament if elections were held now. Germany’s next national vote is due in the fall of 2017.

Pandering

Europe’s established parties can’t defeat populist movements by adopting similar policies or labeling them extremists, he said, citing Austria as proof that pandering to populists won’t work. Directing rare criticism at a neighboring country’s government, he said that Austria, whose Social Democratic chancellor resigned Monday in the latest fallout from Europe’s refugee crisis, “certainly can’t be a model for Europe.”

“We have populist parties all over Europe, in Austria, the Netherlands, France, Britain, Sweden, Finland and now also in Germany,” de Maiziere said. “Now all of us, not just Austria, are confronted with the question of how to react.”

Calling populist parties “right-wing extremists” or adopting their rhetoric “will fail” because they channel “understandable fears” among voters regarding globalization or immigration, he said.

“There are no easy answers to complicated questions,” he said. “The modern world is complicated. It leads to change. We have to have the confidence and strength to handle this within a framework of freedom and pluralism.”

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