When Horst Seehofer was asked about refugee policy and the burned down Greek camp Moria in the Bundestag, the federal interior minister put his finger in the wound. “I have zero point zero support from governments that the Greens are involved in,” said the CSU politician. An allusion to the government of Sebastian Kurz in Austria, which does not want to accept refugees from Lesvos.
In Germany, Seehofer is accused by the Greens of the federal government’s pledge to bring 1,553 refugees from the Greek islands to Germany is not enough. But in Austria, Green co-rulers have so far failed to dissuade Kurz from taking his hard line against Moria.
It was foreseeable that sooner or later problems would arise in the conservative-green coalition in Austria. In the coalition negotiations at the beginning of this year, both partners gave themselves the space to maneuver on their core issues. Prime Minister Kurz expressed the spirit of the coalition as follows: “It is possible to protect the climate and the borders.” More ecology, but a hard line in refugee policy – that was his credo.
The ÖVP could achieve a common goal with the right FPÖ
Among the German Greens, a passage in the chapter on refugee policy in particular caused irritation, allowing the coalition partners to submit their own legislative proposals to parliament in the event of “special challenges” in the event of a lack of agreement. The conservative ruling party ÖVP could make a common cause there with the right wing FPÖ, the arithmetic majorities would exist. Since then, this scenario has resided in the room as a threatening backdrop.
The fact that Seehofer now mainly attacks the Greens in Austria, the Green Member of the Bundestag Luise Amtsberg finds a “sad number”. For years, right-wing and conservative governments have been blocking the solidarity distribution in Europe, criticizes the group’s spokeswoman for refugees. It is “just shabby” if Seehofer gives the impression that the Greens do not want to be accepted in Austria. “The opposite is the case,” says Amtsberg.
Claudia Roth, Vice President of the Bundestag, also criticizes the “cheap attempt” to blame her party friends. “With all the justified criticism from the Austrian Greens, the question is who is in favor of admission and who is against it, namely Mr Kurz and you have to criticize him harshly,” she says.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) is against the admission of refugees from Moria Photo: Georg Hochmuth / dpa
From the point of view of her group colleague Franziska Brantner, the Austrian head of government is the problem. “Seehofer should take his godfather, one of the CSU’s favorite guests, in prayer,” warns the group’s European political spokeswoman. Moreover, the Greens in Austria have not yet given up. “They keep fighting,” she says.
SPD politician Aziz Bozkurt, head of the federal party’s migration and diversity working group, has accused the Greens of becoming an “expected cuddly version” in black and green constellations.
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Austrian MP Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic was not surprised that the ÖVP and the Greens found it difficult to agree on the acceptance of refugees from the Greek islands. “During the coalition negotiations it was already clear that we had conflicting views on refugee policy,” said the deputy group leader.
That is why the Greens have urged Austria to campaign for a common asylum system at European level and for the creation of legal and safe escape routes to Europe. “Without this commitment, the coalition would not have been sustainable for us,” she says. Now, in the coming weeks, Austria will be “at the negotiating table” on this issue – and not outside it.
As for Moria, the green politician wants to keep putting pressure on the coalition partner. She was there a few days ago and speaks of “horror camps”. The Greens “would not allow the topic to be swept under the rug,” Ernst-Dziedzic said.
But has the point reached where the Austrian Greens should pull the rope from the point of view of their German party friends? The MPs Amtsberg sees the danger that the ÖVP and the FPÖ can limit the aid to refugees even further. “Leaving the coalition to create a conservative-right government would be catastrophic for European refugee policy right now,” she said. The Austrian Greens are aware of this responsibility. “That’s a dilemma.”
Brantner also thinks it is right that her party friends in Vienna do not leave the coalition because of the refugee problem, even if the situation is anything but simple. “The government with the FPÖ was a disaster,” she says, referring to the previous coalition.
Green politician Roth puts it the same way: With their coalition decision, the Greens in Austria “also prevented the FPÖ’s restrictive and anti-EU line from continuing”.
Nevertheless, the agreements on refugee policy are “very tough,” said Roth. After the federal elections in the fall of 2017, the green politician negotiated with representatives of the Union and the FDP on the chapter on refugee policy during the explorations in Jamaica. At the time, there were particularly hard discussions about family reunification. These were talks the Greens said in retrospect had gone “to the limit of pain” and “further”.
Roth’s lesson from the explorations at the time is, “We can only achieve more if we have better results,” she says. Anyone who wants to work with the Greens should know that the issues of flight, migration and human rights compliance are “very important” to the party.
“We must not leave domestic politics to the Union.”
Even Amtsberg is under no illusions that talks with the Union about a common refugee policy in Germany would not be easy – should coalition negotiations take place after the federal elections in 2021. “Our goal is to rethink domestic politics,” she says. “We must not leave this field to the Union.”
Apparently, the Union and the Greens are pursuing a different approach in European refugee policy, says Amtsberg. The Minister of the Interior wanted to move the asylum procedures to the external borders of the EU and exclude large parts of refugees from distribution through so-called preliminary investigations.
The Greens, on the other hand, advocated “humane first reception facilities” where refugees arrive and their identities are checked. After a very short time, they must then be distributed to the Member States in Europe, where the asylum applications are processed and from where the persons concerned are integrated or, in case of rejection, returned. “This is the only way we can ensure that these inhumane conditions in the Greek islands end and that we preserve the fundamental values of Europe,” said Amtsberg. A solidarity-based solution in Europe would also mean that the asylum procedure is seen as a shared task.
Franziska Brantner, member of the Green Party, Photo: Mike Wolff
Brantner also sharply criticized the Interior Minister Seehofer. He now pretends to be the great European. He has done nothing in recent years to ensure that there is a European regulation for the reception of refugees, ”she said. He made “absurd suggestions,” which it was clear from the start that they would have no chance of implementation – such as setting up camps in North Africa.
Even today, he insists that in future EU Member States will only accept those who need protection with a positive asylum decision. “Applied to Germany, it would be as if Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg handle all asylum procedures alone and then send those entitled to residence to Lower Saxony or Mecklenburg-Vorpommern,” says Brantner. Bavaria would never accept such a mechanism.
Brantner is convinced that the southern European countries, where people first arrive after fleeing across the Mediterranean, would not accept such a compromise. “That also prevents Seehofer from finding a European solution.”