Germany’s Refugee Crisis And The Remaking Of Angela Merkel

Typically reliant on solid argument and logical persuasion, Merkel is now turning to the humanity of Germans on the refugee crisis. It's a revolutionary approach for the world's most powerful woman.

All eyes on Angela
All eyes on Angela
Thorsten Denkler


BERLIN â€" Chancellor Angela Merkel's speech about hosting refugees came "from the heart," which is a revolutionary approach for the German leader. But seen in political terms, it was also the only card she could really play amid the refugee crisis rocking Europe.

This time around, Merkel stands alone. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is largely lined up against her now, especially at the grassroots level. Her cabinet of ministers is wobbling on its formerly secure pedestal, and Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière has made it abundantly clear that he's unconvinced by Merkel's "we can do it" attitude. The CDU's sister party, the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), is also applying pressure, and the latest opinion polls show the popularity of both Merkel and her party plummeting.

But the Chancellor was unwavering on live television last week when she appeared on Anne Will's talk show, despite the fact that she has said nothing of substance to convince the country that it's possible to successfully manage the influx of refugees.

It's true that the asylum seekers will be an asset to the national economy in the long run, but that won't be evident any time soon. It's also true that the refugees will enrich Germany's cultural heritage without forcing Germans to waive their own identity. But that too will only be fully understood in the years to come, especially by those in regions where there has been historically little contact with foreigners per se.

Even in Germany, there are Muslims who have become carnival princes or champion marksmen at rifle club festivals. It takes time for something like this to develop naturally, but it does and will happen.

Managing fear

It's also true that right now there are too many refugees entering the country, which invariably creates disenchantment among the citizenry. Germans are used to everything following a specific plan, but they're now forced to improvise wildly. It's unsettling and confusing to many, and it can lead to things being blown out of all proportion. Some may become agitated about the fact that some refugees are being housed in school gyms, which means that physical education classes will have to be suspended for a while.

Germany-bound refugees at the Hungary-Austria border. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov

Fears tend to be irrational, often shaped by prejudices. They might wonder whether they can still greet people with the traditional "May God be with you" in southern Germany where a third of a given village's population is now Muslim. The answer, of course, is that yes, we can! But these fears will only be mitigated through positive experiences, and again, that will take time.

All of this could have all gone a bit more smoothly, no question. For a very long time the government vigorously ignored all the signs that pointed towards an abundance of refugees streaming towards Europe, especially Germany. Merkel simply waited too long to take action. The refugees were gathered in train stations in Budapest and Vienna in the thousands before she even acknowledged the situation. And then, despite EU regulations, she promised them that they would be allowed to remain within Germany.

That decision was and is right, as it represents an act of humanity toward people who have been forced to flee war. But the political risk here is incalculable. She has nothing left to offer other than her faith that the country will weather this difficulty. But the unwavering trust that Germany placed in her, even at the height of the Euro crisis, is now dwindling slowly. Merkel will have to demonstrate by 2017 that she is able to find a solution to the problem if she doesn't want to endanger her continued chancellorship. It won't be solved by then, but she will at least have to demonstrate progress.

It's not an impossible feat, but it requires more than just the chancellor's efforts. It requires the combined efforts of all those in charge, all those who shoulder responsibility. Merkel contributed a very personal and emotional part of herself to the debate when she "spoke from the heart." It's a entirely new posture for the chancellor, who until now has relied on sober analysis of the facts rather than heartfelt conviction.

Merkel now hopes that she will reach the hearts of every German by sharing her own.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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