“The capacity to take in, care for and integrate refugees in Germany is limited, not unlimited. Anything else is an illusion Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder spoke exclusively to German newspaper “Handelsblatt” about the situation in the Mideast region, the migration crisis and the forthcoming referendum on British exit from the EU.
Handelsblatt: Is America responsible for the emergence of Islamic State?
Schröder: It’s not the only factor, but it is clear that the mistakes made in the way Iraq was dealt with led to so so many Sunnis joining IS in recent years. In that respect, the intervention in 2003 certainly led to the escalation of a conflict that had been smoldering in the Middle East for a long time.
Handelsblatt: The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, recently admitted exactly these mistakes. He said that the situation in 2015 could not be explained without the Iraq invasion.
Schröder: I found Mr. Blair’s comments remarkable and courageous. No politician likes to admit mistakes, especially when they are so far-reaching as in the case of the Iraq war. I have great respect for Mr. Blair’s admission.
Handelsblatt: Looking back, your decision at the time to keep Germany out of the Iraq War can only be described as wise and beneficial for our country. How great was the external political pressure, especially from the United States, to join the coalition of nations participating in the war?
Schröder: The media in particular put a lot of pressure on Germany. However, the majority of the population was not prepared to send soldiers to Iraq. As federal chancellor, you cannot simply ignore such a mood, especially when it is so obvious.
Handelsblatt: Do you support the current government’s decision to get military involved in the Syrian war with 1,200 soldiers?
Schröder: There’s one thing you cannot forget in the context of the stability of Europe – the German-French relationship is of enormous importance. When there are fundamental differences between Berlin and Paris, like during times during the euro crisis, then Europe’s ability to act on anything is severely restricted. Following the terror attacks in Paris, the government had no choice but to express solidarity with France, militarily if needed. Despite any doubts you may have about the rationality of this decision, you have to understand the federal government’s position there.
Handelsblatt: Last year more than 1 million refugees came to Germany, and this year, the government expects a similar number to come in. Can Germany, as Ms. Merkel has said, really “manage” this?
Schröder: First of all, the federal government has to guarantee to states and local governments that they will receive the financial support they need to handle this. That doesn’t seem to have happened yet in my opinion. More directly to your question: The capacity to take in, care for and integrate refugees in Germany is limited, not unlimited. Anything else is an illusion.
Handelsblatt: So Germany should set its own limit for the acceptance of refugees as soon as possible?
Schröder: In terms of the asylum procedure, you cannot set an upper limit. What we have to do within Europe is come to an agreement on refugee quotas. And if countries like Poland declare that they are only prepared to take 400 refugees, they must be told that this will be taken into account when the next financial negotiations in the European Union take place. That is the only way it can be, because solidarity is not a one-way street. After all, Poland is one of the biggest recipients of E.U. subsidies.
Handelsblatt: What alternatives does Ms. Merkel have, if there is no change in the willingness of E.U. states to accept refugees?
It is important to protect Europe’s external borders. It will cost a great deal of money to make it possible for the countries affected to secure their borders. And then the absolutely inhumane situation of refugees in Lebanese and Jordanian camps has to be tangibly improved.
Aren’t you worried about a return to national self-interest, now apparent in the European Union? The centrifugal forces sometimes appear greater than the wish to forge ahead with political union. This year, the British prime minister will be holding a referendum about a possible exit of his country from the European Union.
That is indeed a dangerous discussion. But I’m not that pessimistic about the chances of finding a joint solution with David Cameron. It should be possible to compromise with the British prime minister on the conditions an E.U. citizen has to fulfill to obtain social benefits in another country. But there can be no question of a compromise at any price. The freedom of movement within the E.U. is not up for discussion. That is a fundamental principle of the European Union which has to remain in place under all circumstances.