The legacy of Europe’s most powerful leader is already fading away
Exceptions prove who rules. In the summer of 2015 Angela Merkel suspended the eu’s asylum rules and allowed 1m people into Germany, in the most controversial decision of her tenure. Rather than being returned to their first port of entry in southern Europe, Syrians arriving in Germany were given a new life in Europe’s most prosperous country. Skip forward to December 2021 and asylum rules are being suspended again. This time the aim is to keep people out. Those crossing from Belarus into the eu now face up to four months in a detention centre while their application is processed. Others will not make it even that far. Polish border guards are pushing them back into Belarus, sometimes roughly. Willkommenskultur has been shown the door.
When it comes to asylum policy in the eu, it is as if Mrs Merkel’s “Wir schaffen das” (“We can manage this”) had never been spoken. Fences are springing up. Proposals to share the burden of asylum-seekers more evenly have been stuck for five years. It is far from an isolated case: the most significant policies Mrs Merkel pursued at a European level are being undone. The German chancellor left the European stage only on December 8th, when Olaf Scholz’s coalition of Social Democrats, liberals and Greens officially took power. Yet the mark left by this century’s foremost eu politician is already fading.