Hungarians expect Brussels to set aside political debates
Migration: an agonizing topic to separate old friends
The European Union had to deal with a number of crises in the past years. The financial and public debt crisis from 2008, the collapse of numerous Arab and Eastern European governments from 2011, the migration and refugee crisis in 2015, Brexit 2016 and finally the climate and corona crisis. Almost all crises were resolved through negotiations and compromises, with the exception of the migration issue. While the distribution of money and pollution rights appeared negotiable, the resettlement of people remains heavily disputed. A decision by the EU interior ministers for a binding distribution quota has been in place since November 2015, but this quota and its creation are still highly controversial and divide the European Union and its governments. In 2015 only the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania opposed the quota, but since then Poland, Austria, Latvia, Estonia and Bulgaria have joined as decisive opponents of any obligation. In Italy, Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia and Finland, approval is dependent on the respective government majority and has changed accordingly in recent years. Conversely, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Portugal, Lithuania and Ireland, as well as Switzerland as associated non-member, declare themselves willing to voluntarily accept migrants and refugees from time to time. However, only Germany and Luxembourg are really proactive arguing for the admission of migrants, with Germany itself being split into a northwestern and southeastern part. Skepticism prevails in particular in the eastern federal states, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg and the disputes with Central Eastern Europe regarding the subject of migration are perceived here as stressful and disturbing. This is not surprising, since the region along the Elbe and Danube has been culturally and historically closely linked for over a thousand years and the economic ties are flourishing not only since 2004. Most countries in the Danube region have been friendly and respectful towards each other since the fall of the Iron Curtain. In terms of party politics, these countries are all led by governments that are politically center-right or right-wing. However, in spite of a in general terms political proximity, an agreement on the issue of migration has not yet been possible, especially between Germany on the one hand and the V4 countries Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia on the other.
This disagreement in Central Europe on the subject of migration is developing into a lose-lose situation for the region. While France was able to unite southern Europe in financial matters, Germany is now disoriented in terms of fiscal policy and, on the other hand, all the more dogged in the area of migration. Still, it does not have any close allies left that would share its position in both areas. The V4, on the other hand, are regarded as blockers and enemies in the West due to their strict migration policy and are under constant fire from public criticism in many countries. As the Visegrád-states claim they would just want to defend Europe and its culture with their behavior, their bad reputation in large parts of Europe should not satisfy them either.
This paper is therefore intended to analyze whether a rapprochement in the area of migration is possible in the next few months and will briefly outline what this could look like. The starting points for the analysis are two events: the German EU Council Presidency from July-December 2020 and the upcoming Bundestag election in September 2021, in which Angela Merkel will no longer run after 16 years in office. No progress has been made in the area of a common asylum system since 2015 and the German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer seems determined to change this as his political legacy. Angela Merkel's withdrawal also brings opportunities to try to reunite. However, it also contains the risk of a left-wing government in Germany, which would be extremely problematic for Central Europe and in particular for Germany's relationship with its immediate eastern neighbors.
B: European Council Presidency 2020 and federal elections 2021: Two crucial events in analysis
As part of the biannual rotating presidency of the European Council, Germany took over the chairmanship of the EU countries in the European Council from Croatia in July 2020. Much is expected of this presidency, since both Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer were part of Angela Merkel's first cabinet in 2007 under the last German presidency and are considered experienced negotiators. Both are also keen to resolve some of the EU's deadlock problems before their withdrawal in 2021. Germany will be followed by two small member states in 2021 with Portugal and Slovenia, and France will have to hold a presidency during its the presidential election campaign in 2022, which is not very likely to produce a lot of compromises. The hopes therefore rest on Germany.
I: A new asylum systems for the EU under the German Council Presidency 2020?
1, Germany and migration: a problematic combination
In Germany, the topic of migration, flight and asylum is historically highly emotionally charged. Large sections of the population did not agree with the government's course since 2015. The attempt to create a welcoming culture can be seen as a failure. Both CDU / CSU and SPD had to cope with heavy defeats, the extreme political positions: both, the AfD and the Greens, were strengthened on the migration question. The German borders were too open for AfD voters, for supporters of the Greens too closed. The position of the federal government, however, was unclear. Rhetorically strongly moralizing and open for immigrants and refugees, it was working secretly towards limiting immigration. More symbolic gestures were used, such as the admission of some children and adolescents from camps such as Moria in Greece. This also showed the contradictory nature of German politics. Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn asked Germany to do more and to explain its policies clearly. The majority of the migrants are young Muslim men and only very few are children or orphans or girls. Family reunification should therefore be expected. The twelve teenagers who had been flown to Luxembourg would thus become 50, and with 50 children for Germany, 250 additional migrants can be expected later (see Müller 11.04. 2020). Germany, however, refused this openness and insisted that it wanted to save seriously ill children, preferably girls and orphans, and that it would not want that the families join the children later. It was only when the Greek authorities made clear that the group that Germany wanted did not exist and that the seriously ill could not board a plane without any preparations tomorrow, and agreement was reached on the admission of mostly male, young and healthy migrants. Greek authorities made it clear that: "(…) of the 5000 children in Moria, 93% are male, 90% are over 14 years old, 44% Afghans, 21% Pakistanis and only 11% are Syrians" (ibid.). However, this was not really discussed in the media, Germany officially continues to save groups of people that hardly exist in reality, or as it was stated in a Bundestag proposal from March 2020, which called for the admission of 5000 migrants: "Children, pregnant women and traumatized people" (Spiegel. online 04.03.2020). Asselborn's call to be more honest was also shortened in the most prominent news program Tagesschau, for example, to an appeal for the admission of more migrants.
For other countries, this behavior of the German government is often not understandable, since it is not based on facts and is propagated morally as a counter-image of Germany to replace the image of the country being bound to the years of 1933-45. On the other hand, one does not want the events of 2015 to be praised too aggressively in terms of foreign policy, since from the German perspective they have to remain an exception and a repetition would certainly overwhelm the country. An exception for which one expects the praise of the world community, but on the other hand one does not want to talk about. The journalist Robin Alexander, who is considered the German chronicler of the events of 2015, aptly summarizes this paradox: "(2015) was an outstanding achievement that must never be repeated" (Alexander 2017 p.277). Germany therefore tries to share the burdens of migration, but for historical reasons refuses to define migrants and refugees as burdens. Rather, migration is positive and would strengthen the economy. Opportunities are overstressed, risks negated, downplayed or even ridiculed. In addition, Germany is legally bound and must accept migrants, such as those rescued from distress at sea. Here the government takes over the style of left-wing NGOs. The fact that those rescued from distress are hardly refugees, all voluntarily went to Northern Africa and mostly also deliberately brought themselves into distress is not addressed. Obvious integration problems are also not addressed, and the emergence of right-wing and Islamist terror cells is not attributed to migration, but described as a self-made problem of the German society and its failures to meet the needs of immigrants.
The German population, on the other hand, is far less willing to follow the NGOs. In a new survey, the participants were given the choice of whether they would prefer to continue to accept migrants at the borders or whether refugees should be flown in directly from camps: 59% wanted to stop the entry at the borders and a change of the system, 11% abstained and only 30% wanted a continuation of the previous policy (see Hernández-Morales 12.07.2020). This change of mood would represent a clear shift and offer the chance to meet the demands of the V4 without having to leave the own humanitarian position. For Germany, the reform of the European asylum system is therefore a "toxic and highly ideological mega project" (Leubecher 13.07. 2020), as the journalist Marcel Leubecher put it. On the other hand, only German politics itself can solve this problem that has its roots in the German self-image and must therefore use the Council Presidency to set the appropriate impulses.
2, Seehofer's plan and Central Eastern Europe's contribution
EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Horst Seehofer plan to present a joint plan for reforming the asylum system in September 2020. The centerpiece will be an initiative put forward by Austria and Germany to carry out asylum procedures at the EU's external borders. Asylum seekers must remain in camps on the border until their asylum application is decided. Only those who have a positive forecast should then be redistributed within the EU (see Baumann, 24.06. 2020). The suggestion comes in handy for the V4. This would put a stop to the illegal entry of economic migrants that they criticized. These migrants would no longer be redistributed across the EU, but would already be rejected at the borders.
But it also has three hooks. On the one hand, states at the external border must be given appropriate support in exchange for being allowed to be set up the camps on their territory. Such camps would certainly be a burden for local residents. It is also not legally clear whether asylum seekers should actually be locked up there or how it would be possible to detain them in closed places. As a solution, Seehofer proposes a system like that of the Bavarian ANKER centers (Center for Arrival, Decision, Repatriation).
The second point of criticism, however, is the repatriations, as deportations are not rigorously executed which also questions the usefulness of the ANKER centers in Bavaria. In parallel to the establishment of camps, agreements must be negotiated with all major countries to take back migrants. The EU has been inactive here for years and leaves this to the member countries. However, only the EU has enough potential to force states to take back its citizens. For many African countries, including the Eritrean dictatorship, the export of their excess population is a lucrative source of income. Threats by individual countries would have no effect on the enormous sums that the diaspora transfers and which are collected in the form of a diaspora tax (see Hirt 16.04.2020).
This is where the third catch comes in: the legal subtleties. Any rejected asylum seeker could take legal action against a negative decision on his application and so would still remain in the camp. There are also countless reasons to legally challenge and prevent deportations. As long as no legally binding solutions are found here, no joint EU solution can be advanced.
There are also domestic problems in Germany. The SPD continues to follow the NGOs. It is warned of "deprivation of rights and detention camps for those seeking protection" (Bullion 15.06. 2020). However, this would make the entire reform de facto pointless, since the SPD also wants to distribute migrants who are not entitled to asylum to the EU if they cannot be deported to their homeland. The case law of the CJEU and the ECHR does make migrants de facto non- deportable, since they only have to say that they are at risk of torture or ill treatment in order to stay in Europe.
So, what should be done? First of all, Central Eastern Europe should show willingness for a European solution. This “European solution” is important for the German public and politics, since it has been propagated as the only solution since 2015. The problem is, that since then, two European solutions emerged. The German European Solution was a solution mainly addressed to the German public and only acceptable for Germany, Luxembourg and partially some others that hoped to get something in return from Germany for showing support in the migration question, ignoring the unwillingness of the majority of other states to follow Germany. The real European Solution was clearly out for reducing migration and asylum claims, but was blocked by Germany and its allies. Making clear this reality to the German public will be as a shock and is dangerous for any politician. The bearer of bad news is at high risk to be killed off politically, but someone must be found to do so. Seehofer in his last days or a new chancellor could do so and revise the German position in some key points, if they get support for a real sustainable reform from other states concerning other aspects. Germany could thus rehabilitate itself morally and at the same time would not be overwhelmed by the influx of too many migrants. If Horst Seehofer succeeded in finding even a chance for a compromise here, this would massively increase his chances of success within the federal government. Conversely, for diplomatic help against the SPD, Seehofer should be appreciative to the V4 and the image of the V4 should improve noticeably if they appear to be willing to compromise, solution-oriented and realistic at the same time. Before giving up the blockade, however, the V4 itself should form a coalition with other countries that is as large as possible and put forward its points. In principle, these must contain the points mentioned above, i.e. a clarification:
- of the logistical possibilities of the EU countries for establishing camps
- of the legal options for rejected migrants to file a suit against a rejection
- of the possibility of temporarily detain migrants against their will in closed facilities
- of the minimum standards required for the care of migrants
- of the return mechanisms to be implemented
- of the possibility of establishing a distribution mechanism for those who are granted asylum
- of the possibility to limit the number of asylum seekers assigned to a country annually
If the number of asylum seekers cannot be limited, the Australian model, adapted to European needs, should be favored based on the demographic situation in Africa and the Middle East. The EU would then first check applicants' applications, but then fly them to third countries and ensure the security of asylum seekers there. Asylum would then be granted by the EU, but no longer in Europe, which would make migration to Europe less attractive. This step is necessary because, on the one hand, the right to asylum cannot be overridden, but its unrestricted application would at the same time, in the long term, overwhelm the EU by too many persons entitled to protection.
Negotiations on this will not be completed by December 2020. But they offer a way to bring Germany and the V4 closer together again. The V4 can be quite robust, since Germany has to deliver a result. The V4 as an opinion leader in Central and Eastern Europe has an important role to play here. This is especially true since the future German chancellor will also closely monitor the course of the negotiations and will position himself accordingly in relation to the V4 in the federal election campaign and the subsequent government period. In contrast to 2015, Germany should no longer hope for the V4 to take over its position, but would certainly be prepared to make concessions as long as the V4 in return would do so as well. Especially for a conservative chancellor, ready-to-negotiate V4 would be enormously important, as they would contain Germany's domestic motivated moralism at European level and would counter this with a strict, rational but not inhumane migration and asylum policy.
II: Scenarios for the 2021 federal election:
1, Markus Söder becomes first CSU Chancellor
1,1 How likely is this option?
For the first time since the Federal Republic of Germany was founded, the Chancellor's Office would be in the hands of the CSU. The Bavarian Prime Minister and CSU Chairman Markus Söder could thus compensate for the CSU the failure of Manfred Weber in the race for the EU Commission Presidency in 2019 and the defeats of his political role models Franz-Joseph Strauß in the 1980 and Edmund Stoiber in the 2002 federal election.
There are currently some arguments for this. For one thing, around a year before the election, Söder is by far the most popular candidate. His crisis management in the corona crisis catapulted him to the top of the polls. In the ZDF Polit-Barometer, he achieved 64% approval as chancellor in July. This is 34% more than in March 2020 before the outbreak of the crisis. From declared CDU / CSU voters even 78% support his candidacy. Friedrich Merz follows with 31% approval from all Germans, Armin Laschet with 19% and Norbert Röttgen with 14% (see Die Welt 10.07.2020). These numbers speak a clear language and cannot be ignored in the CDU either. Even more: Söder can make the CDU an attractive job offer. If Söder manages to cross the finish line with a result of around 35% in September 2021, many options are possible. In addition to a Jamaica coalition with Liberals and Greens, an alliance with either the Greens or the SPD, which both currently have about 15-20% approval in the polls, is sure to reach the required 50% of the mandates in the Bundestag. With Söder as Chancellor, the CSU could only claim a maximum of two smaller ministries. The CDU could therefore reclaim the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of the Interior and fill it with the current parliamentary group leader Ralph Brinkaus (Finance) and the current Minister of Health Jens Spahn (Interior) and strengthen their profile. Both are like Laschet, Merz and Röttgen from North Rhine-Westphalia. If one of these three would become chancellor, this state would already be well supplied with political power and numerous politicians would have to be patient. In contrast, numerous ministries would waive North Rhine-Westphalia if there was a Bavarian chancellor.The state associations in Baden-Württemberg and eastern Germany, which were marginalized under Angela Merkel, should not be neglected under Söder as well. Only the heavily overrepresented regional association in the Saarland is likely to lose. An Economics Minister Peter Altmaier is hardly imaginable under Markus Söder, but the current Minister of Defense, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, could probably keep her post or be promoted to the office of the Bundespräsident in 2022. In addition to the CDU-held Agriculture Ministry, the Greens are also likely to target primarily CSU posts in negotiations: The Transport and Infrastructure Ministry and the Development Aid Ministry. In addition, the Foreign Ministry for Cem Özdemir, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy of Altmaier and the Environmental department for the Greens and a Union-Green coalition would provide many important ministries for the CDU under a CSU chancellor. Should the CDU actually sacrifice the Chancellery for ministries? Yes, absolutely. The Chancellery is the most important control center for German government work. At the moment, however, the CDU has no convincing applicants. The party is also drained in terms of political content and clear positions. It would therefore make sense to develop a content-based profile through core ministries and then to claim the Chancellery again in 2029 or at the latest in 2033. Söder had already suggested as Prime Minister that he wanted to remain in office for a maximum of two terms of five years. As Chancellor, he could maintain this or extend it to twelve years / three periods. That the CDU would have to live with a CSU chancellor for decades is unlikely and makes the Söder variant very attractive for many young and middle-aged ministers and state secretaries, especially since a good election result in 2021 gives them the opportunity to profile themselves in office. Söder was almost officially supported by Norbert Röttgen, who described it as a “great achievement” (BR 12.07.2020) to defend the Chancellery “for the Union”, ie not for the CDU, after 16 years under Angela Merkel. This could also be done with a CSU candidate. He also spoke of a "ten-year perspective with Söder" (ibid.).
The state of the CDU is another argument for Söder. He had already prevailed against Horst Seehofer in 2017/18 and replaced him in the posts of prime minister and party chairman. The CDU failed to make this clear decision. Angela Merkel remained in the Chancellery and the race for her successor was only narrowly decided in favor of Kramp-Karrenbauer. Their short time in office was not very successful and so the camp around Friedrich Merz remained gathered around him within in the party. The rather young and conservative supporters of Jens Spahn remained loyal to him as well and therefore the party was only partially united. The same threatens in 2020. No matter who will win the race for the CDU chairmanship, the opposition of the losing candidates should be clear, especially if the election, like 2018, should be very tight. A coalition with a divided CDU, a strong CSU and strong Greens, as well as the AfD on the right, could hardly be controlled by the CDU. Friedrich Merz argued that he could not imagine Söder's chancellorship, since CSU candidacy was only possible in exceptional cases and with a weak CDU leadership (see Morgenpost 05.07.2020). He could have involuntarily provided a strong motive for Söder's election, because none of the currently three applicants for the CDU chair should be able to gain the authority to lead the party and maneuver it into a highly competitive election campaign within a few months. An external solution from Bavaria could bring peace and order and focus on political competitors, away from intra-party disputes. In addition to good survey values, ministries and career opportunities, Söder would also offer the CDU a rationally needed break for self-discovery without the Union having to give up the chancellery.
1,2 What to expect?
When it comes to migration, Söder is likely to be the preferred candidate for Central Eastern Europeans. In addition to the Greens, Söder could also rule with the SPD, possibly even with the FDP. Accordingly, the left parties can appear less dominant in negotiations, especially the Greens, who cannot be too sure that they will ultimately be in government. Söder also appreciates the performance of these countries. As a former Bavarian finance minister, he is well aware of the importance of Czechs, Croats, Hungarians, Slovaks, Poles and Bulgarians for the Bavarian and German economy and he never became abusive or condescending towards these countries. Rather, in 2017 he appointed Michaela Kaniber as Minister of Agriculture with a Croatian background, to a core department of the CSU in Bavaria. Her parents came to Bavaria as guest workers from Yugoslavia. Söder is also a media professional. In terms of content, he should fully share Horst Seehofer's criticism of Angela Merkel's migration policy. At the same time, however, he also saw that Seehofer could not score against Merkel and the German media landscape and ultimately caused massive damage to himself through this ongoing dispute. An offensive approach from Söder to the V4 and Hungary in particular is therefore not to be expected. There will as well hardly be more invitations to joint press appointments or commemorative events. The criticism of the German press, for example about the election of Ursula von der Leyens as President of the EU Commission with votes from PiS and FIDESZ, should also make Söder act cautiously. Rather, Söder will position himself in the middle and act as a negotiator between advocates and opponents of migration. It was not for nothing that the Bild newspaper headlined the anticipated Union campaign in 2021: "Operation:" Eligible for everyone "" (Bild 07.07.2020). This also presents an enormous opportunity for the V4, because unlike Merkel, Söder is not committed to open borders. Moderate critics of the Merkel course are likely to find support from him as long as the criticism is factual and well-founded. The attacks on the EPP, Manfred Weber and the ambitions of the CSU 2019, on the other hand, were perceived by Söder as irrational and hostile and fueled the voices in the CSU that wished to move away from Central Eastern Europe (see ntv 14.03.2019). Between Söder and the heads of government of the V4, however, there are fundamental overlaps, for example in the emphasis on Christian culture, the rejection of left-wing liberal hegemony of values and skepticism towards an increasingly centralized Europe. Söder would therefore offer the chance to bring Central Eastern Europe back together.
To do this, the V4 and especially Hungary and Germany would have to deviate from their extreme positions. Söder is unlikely to insist on a distribution quota for illegal migrants or on dismantling border fortifications. In addition, he regularly criticized both churches and NGOs for their surreal demands and spoke of asylum tourism for certain migrant groups to Germany, but relativized the term after harsh criticism (see Die Welt, 08.07.2018). The idea of flexible solidarity should be enough for him. Conversely, with a view to a green coalition partner, he will insist on good treatment for asylum seekers and possibly work towards a distribution of recognized asylum seekers in all states. Central Eastern Europe could support him here. If asylum centers are set up in Greece, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain, the V4 and Hungary are unlikely to see any more migrants on their southern borders. In addition, the V4 could make special efforts to seek asylum seekers who had to flee communist dictatorships or belong to persecuted religious minorities, i.e. are predominantly Christians. This would allow the V4 to maintain its position against illegal migrants, they would not have to deal with problematic asylum seekers and could still actively contribute to the development of Europe in its sense. A massive improvement in relation to Germany would also be expected, which would enable Germany to focus more on balancing the financial desires of Southern Europe and France. An aspect that was always important for Söder as Minister of Finance within Germany and to which he stated that "Bavaria is the most charitable institution in Germany" (Die Welt 08.10.2016), but at the same time "Bavarian money is still best kept in Bavaria" (ibid.). He may also want to implement this course at European level, where the support of the Euro countries of the Baltic States, Slovakia and Slovenia would certainly be helpful, which in turn are skeptical of Germany's current migration policy. Söder, for example, is skeptical about the introduction of Eurobonds and the communization of debts, but would need the help of Central Eastern Europe in addition to the countries of Northern Europe (see Oldenburger Onlinezeitung 08.04. 2020). So, if Central Eastern Europe could end a certain tendency towards provocations in the area of asylum and migration, a rapprochement under a Chancellor Söder with a mutually acceptable result could well be possible and would enable the expansion of cooperation in other policy fields.
2, Armin Laschet as chancellor
2,1 How likely is this option?
In February 2020, Armin Laschet was still the most likely next CDU chairman and candidate for chancellor. He reached a pact with the conservative Jens Spahn and was already eagerly promoting his candidacy among party members. He was praised for being a bridge-builder to the Greens, a reconciler and a person that could bring together a large variety of different groups. With the advent of the corona epidemic, however, Laschet's chances of success faded. As prime minister, he was more present in the media than his competitors Merz and Röttgen, but he made serious mistakes in dealing with the crisis, which raised great doubts as to his suitability for the chancellery. Laschet wanted to end the lockdown in his state early, but did so unprepared and caused chaos in his state´s schools, for example. He managed to face criticism from both, teachers’ unions as well as parents and students’ associations. On the other hand, he advised against carrying out the 2021 carnival season in already in summer 2020, but refused to finally ban it, as a result of which the carnival clubs would have received money back for reservations that had already been made. This generated outrage with the usually very Laschet-friendly carnival clubs in the whole federal state that accused him of being incompetent and not able to understand the importance of carnival (see Crolly, 08.07.2020). Overall, he benefited little from the corona epidemic due to his less stringent crisis management, and the CDU's initial gains in opinion polls were soon lost again, unlike in East Germany, Baden-Württemberg or Bavaria. This also has to do with Laschet's appearance. He has a jovial style and is considered a better representative than a decision maker. In the corona crisis, however, it was the decision-makers like Merkel, Scholz, Spahn or Söder who scored more. Laschet is also considered a poor campaigner, in the course of the 2017 state election he was given the office of prime minister by luck and the poor work of the SPD-Green government from 2010-2017. In an interview before the election, he even declared that he was also satisfied as the Vice Prime Minister. In a duel with Olaf Scholz and Robert Habeck, however, Laschet has no chance, critics argue, as both are more popular than he is. The generally well-informed Berliner Tagesspiegel therefore already brought another solution into play. Laschet generously leaves the Chancellor candidacy to Söder. In return, this supports Laschet's election as Federal President in 2022 (see Casdorff 07.06. 2020). Incumbent Steinmeier is a social democrat and popular. He would then be 68 years old and could run for a second term. But the fact that the Union leaves him with this post can be ruled out and the SPD should not be able to find a majority for Steinmeier against the Union. There could be no majority for Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer's candidacy as first female president as well. Laschet in turn should receive a majority with votes from the Union, the Greens and the FDP at the latest in the third ballot. The Federal President's area of responsibility should also fit Laschet better than the requirements of the Federal Chancellery. In addition, Laschet would then have to support Söder in the Bundestag election in order to get the largest possible parliamentary group in the Bundestag in 2021 which would then justify his claim to the highest state office in 2022.
However, there are three options in which Laschet would still come into play as chancellor candidate of CDU/CSU. A clear victory for Laschet in December 2020 over all opponents in the first round of the CDU chairmanship elections, for example, would mean that the new CDU chairman will no longer be able to be deprived of the chancellorship. Söder would then have to move aside, since the CDU is the clearly larger partner of the Union.
The other two variants depend on Söder. He often emphasized that his place was in Bavaria. In addition, he would only have been prime minister for three years in 2021. He had always described this office as his dream, not the chancellery in Berlin. Söder is also considered to be home-bound and particularly loyal to his native city of Nuremberg. His entire family lives there, commuting to Berlin would be a burden. In addition, there is the question of the eligibility of a catholic-baroque Bavarian in rest of Germany, which Söder counters with the reference to Franconia. Ludwig Erhard was also a Protestant Franconian Chancellor from 1963-1966. Söder is also a Protestant. But Söder seems to be ambitious enough to size the historic opportunity to become the first CSU chancellor and to leave aside personal motivations.
The question of succession in Bavaria however would be much more decisive. Söder fought hard with numerous adversaries over the legacy of Horst Seehofer. He was able to defeat all his competitors. Christine Haderthauer stumbled across an affair with her husband. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on his plagiarized doctoral thesis. Söder then beat Ilse Aigner and dismissed her to the post of the President of the Bavarian State Parliament. Alexander Dobrindt and Manfred Weber are bound in Berlin and Brussels and are tainted by the failed motorway toll and the candidacy for the top position of the EU-commission in 2019. Söder is therefore undisputed in Bavaria, the CSU is again on the way to an absolute majority. It would be different in Berlin. Söder would have to fight for a place here, the domestic power of the CSU would be minimal. He would also have to give up the office of prime minister. There is no logical successor from among his supporters. It is possible that he could assert Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann as interim prime minister, who will then hand over to Minister of Agriculture Michaela Kaniber, Minister of Finance Albert Füracker or Minister of State Florian Herrmann. Joachim Herrmann would be 65 years old in 2021. He also showed little ambition to want to leave the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior, which he had been leading since 2007. There is danger for Söder that an alliance of Weber, Dobrindt, Guttenberg and Aigner with support of Seehofer would agree on a candidate. Söder would lose its domestic power in Bavaria to a rival and would be almost isolated in Berlin. A nightmare scenario that could lead to Armin Laschet becoming the candidate for chancellor of the Union and Markus Söder voluntarily renouncing his claims.
2,2 What to expect?
The most likely outcome of a Laschet candidacy is a CDU/CSU-Greens alliance or a left-wing coalition under a Green Chancellor. This would be less good for Central Eastern Europe. Both Laschet and the Greens support Angela Merkel's open migration policy. Approaching the V4 and migration critics is not to be expected. Laschet is also critical of border controls and tends towards symbolism and moralism. He was against border closures, both during the migration crisis and during the corona epidemic, as this would disturb the “European spirit” (ZDF 09.05.2020). Conversely, as close as Laschet feels to Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, he appreciates Central Eastern Europe little. In the course of a corona outbreak in Gütersloh, he did not criticize the poor working conditions of the Romanian and Bulgarian workers, but accused them of having brought the virus to Gütersloh (see Plück 20.06.2020). Laschet is also a Catholic, but lives the faith much less than Söder. After working in Bonn and Brussels, Laschet became Minister for Integration in Düsseldorf in 2005. From this time comes his nickname "Türkenarmin/Turk-Armin" (Schuler 10.05.2017). Friends explain this by the fact that Laschet tried to win over migrants for the CDU in the five years in office until 2010. Critics complain that he underestimated and ignored radical Islam and parallel structures. He believed in a multicultural society in which Islam also found its place. Accordingly, from 2015 on, Laschet also vehemently defended Angela Merkel against criticism from the party about her refugee course (see ibid.). Laschet has never been able to understand the skepticism towards the admission of refugees and migrants, even if his state in particular has massive problems with the integration of poverty migrants and refugees. For Laschet, however, Central Eastern Europe seems to be culturally far further away than Arabia and Africa, while for example Söder certainly has a cultural understanding of Central Eastern Europe. Cooperation between Laschet and the heads of government of these countries is therefore likely to be extremely difficult, both in terms of content and on a personal level. An approximation is therefore not to be expected in a Union-Green coalition under a Chancellor Laschet. Rather, the status quo and thus the division of the EU should solidify during his term as chancellor.
3, Robert Habeck and the left coalition
3,1 How likely is this option?
A chancellor who does not belong to the Union? With the exception of 1969-1982 and 1998-2005, this has not been the case. The CDU ruled in the chancellery from 1949-2020 in 50 of 71 years. A majority against the Union in 2021 seems unlikely as well. Nevertheless, there are fears in the CDU / CSU that the currently high poll values of just under 40% are related to Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will no run again in 2021. A coalition of Greens, Socialists and Leftists or Liberals could send the Union into opposition. This is particularly true since only Markus Söder could currently beat Robert Habeck and Olaf Scholz, the likely candidates from the Greens and the SPD. In a direct election, Söder is 40:26 ahead of Scholz and 46:24 ahead of Habeck. Conversely, the two beat all CDU candidates, most clearly Armin Laschet. Here Habeck is just ahead with 30:21, Scholz very clearly with 39:15. While two thirds of the CDU voters would have no problem with a CSU Chancellor Söder, they are in the Scholz: Laschet duel mostly for the SPD candidate. A fact, that can be seen as a clear alarming signal for the CDU (see Die Welt 11.07.2020). The political left could currently not govern against the Union by its own efforts. However, if the Union chooses Laschet and if he does not succeed in increasing his very poor popularity and competence values, the Union could defend the first place, but not necessarily the Chancellery. The party experienced a similar scenario in 2011 in Baden-Württemberg. The CDU clearly became the strongest party with 39%, but was replaced by a coalition of Greens and SPD. Since then, the Green Wilfried Kretschmann has ruled the former CDU stronghold and became the strongest party in the country in 2016 with the Greens. In this case, Robert Habeck should also become a Green Chancellor in Berlin. The SPD is consistently around 15% in polls. Its ministers are certified good work. Still, the party barely moves up to 20%. In terms of content, the SPD, like the CDU, is considered used up and weak. The party is also paralyzed between leftist ideologues and pragmatists. A pragmatic candidate for chancellor like Olaf Scholz with a left-wing program resembles 2009 and 2013 with the failure of Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Peer Steinbrück to unseat Angela Merkel. The Greens manage the balance between left and center much better. They also address environmental issues, which is extremely important for young, urban and progressive voters. If a left-wing government is formed, these voters are crucial and, with the exception of Hamburg, they have clearly opted for the Greens and against the SPD in the last elections. In the polls, after a brief corona-slump in spring 2020, they are now clearly ahead of the SPD at around 20% and should therefore lead a left-wing coalition.
3,2 What to expect?
The Greens are clearly positioned to be migration and refugee friendly. The party already supported Angela Merkel's course massively in 2015. Winfried Kretschmann, the Green Prime Minister in Baden-Württemberg, said that he prayed every day for the Chancellor and her politics (see Haselberger / Monath 01.02.2016). The parliamentary group leader in the Bundestag, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, said with a view to the rapidly increasing migration in November 2015: "Germany will change, drastically - and I am looking forward to it (...)" (Niejahr / Schmitz 25.12.2017). In addition, she described the migrants as gifts that would save Germany from economic decline. With regard to Islam, she made clear just before the 2017 federal election: “Of course Islam belongs to Germany, and of course Muslims belong to Germany. And I think we can be very happy about that. It would be very boring if we only had to deal with ourselves” (rbb 18/09/2017). These statements are quite representative for the mood within the party. Other opinions, such as that of the Mayor of Tübingen Boris Palmer, are the exception and regularly culminate in party exclusion proceedings (see Palmer 20.09.2019). The Greens therefore want to be perceived as a pro-migration party. The poor result in the 2017 elections did not change that. In the subsequent government negotiations, the Union and the FDP initially clashed hard with the Greens on this issue (see Die Zeit 12.11.2017). Ultimately, however, the Greens sacrificed many aspects in the area of environmental politics in order to be successful in the area of migration before the FDP in turn left the negotiations. The agreement in Germany in 2017 was reversed by the ÖVP in Austria in 2019: there the ÖVP determined the course of migration policy, the Greens were able to enforce numerous demands in the area of environment and climate. In Germany, the Greens continue to be elected for environmental issues, but often focus on the issue of migration. In the state elections in Bavaria 2018, 66% stated that the Greens had competence in the area of environmental protection, only 17% saw this in the area of asylum and migration (see Tagesschau, 14.10. 2018). Similar values were measured in the 2019 European elections: 56% saw the Greens as competent in the area of the environment, only 12% in the area of migration (see Ibid. 26.05.2019). However, in the state elections in Bavaria, for example, 93% of Greens voters and members also supported the party’s explicitly migration-friendly policy. This is why it is not expected that the party will change its positioning (see Ibid. 14.10 2018). For example, party leader Annalena Baerbock continued called during the corona crisis to distribute more migrants from Greece and Turkey in the EU as soon as possible (see Die Zeit 01.03.2020).
The SPD has also committed itself to a pro-migration policy. After Sigmar Gabriel had recommended that the party to take a look at the successful, tough line of the Danish Social Democrats (see Focus 07.06.2019), Olaf Scholz explicitly refused to take this stance only a few weeks later (see Spiegel. online 26.06.2019). Foreclosure and exclusion cannot be the policy of the SPD. He was supported by the majority of the officials and numerous journalists. The Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, influential within the SPD, warned that if the party swerved to the right, it would lose their integrity and thus the rest of its dignity (see Peter 07.06.2019). The German social democracy thus remains on a migration-friendly course.
The Left is clearly in favor of more migration and unlimited reception of refugees. Voices critical of migration such as Sarah Wagenknecht's have now fallen silent. She had opposed the majority opinion of her group and criticized the Left's radical discourse on migration and asylum as elitist and instructive. Demanding a differentiated view of migration is not racist, but necessary, she argued (see Tagesspiegel 06.04.2019). Her party saw this differently and deprived her of the power to speak for the Left in the debate on migration. A move that lead to the resignation of Wagenknecht as group leader of the Left in the Bundestag in autumn 2019.
A coalition of Greens, SPD and Left Party would go on a confrontation course to the position of the V4. This positioning is ideological and cannot be resolved through negotiations. The V4 governments are also not very popular in Germany, especially in the media. They should therefore serve as scapegoats if the EU migration policy shaped by Germany does not show the desired success. There will be moral outrage and concrete attempts to discipline the V4. If the V4 refuse to accept immigrants, for example, the German government may strongly insist on the reduction of subsidies and also put German companies under pressure if they plan investments in these states. In other areas too, such as the rule of law, the question of Roma integration, corruption and media freedom, massive conflicts are likely to arise, which will be mixed up with the question of migration. Germany would then take a clear stand with Western and Southern Europe against Central Eastern Europe and give up the benevolent attitude introduced by Helmut Kohl towards the smaller states in this region. Europe would then be completely divided. This cannot be in the sense of V4, whose position would then be unsustainable; in the case of leftist governments in France, Spain and Germany, they would only have to give in or, in the long run, leave the EU. In the case of a Green Chancellor in Germany, it would hardly be possible to influence the course of Europe, and refusing certain policies would inevitably be punished with sanctions. This would be the worst scenario for an understanding between Germany and the V4 on the migration question and almost all important areas where conflicts may arise as well.
C: Concluding remarks
The topic of migration is since 2015 a crucial issue, that hassled to numerous misunderstandings, accusations and disputes between old allies. In view of the close political, economic and, not least, personal ties between many countries, an understanding is urgently advisable. The paper showed that two possible windows of opportunity will open in the next few months. The German Council Presidency can be seen as a test run of an approximation. With a view to the 2021 Bundestag election, the countries of Central Eastern Europe should wisely support as candidate for Chancellor Markus Söder and to grant him an advance of trust. However, they should not expect any miracles from him. To normalize relationships again will take time and many small but effective gestures. Both sides will also have to compromise and show understanding for the other side. Germany's next chancellor should stop portraying the V4 as inhumane bad guys, scapegoating them for a failed EU policy on Africa and Syria, or trying to impose the not-so-successful integration model of Western Europe on them. Central Eastern Europe will have to show more understanding of the situation, particularly of a conservative chancellor, in a public dominated by left-wing media. A center-right politician has very narrow limits when it comes to migration in a highly emotionalized public in Germany. In the best case, the V4 set similar limits to the left as the German media does to the right and thus act as a constant foreign corrective to the left-wing, internal political in Germany debate. Nonetheless, conservative parties in particular should show solidarity with one another and should not provoke one another despite disagreements. The greatest winner of conservative disunity would always be the political left. Even if there are differences among conservatives what topics still constitutes the core of European values and culture, the value-relativistic, global thinking and thus a special, European culture negating left as profiteer of conservative strife can never be satisfactory.
Alexander, Robin: The driven ones. Merkel and the refugee policy: report from inside the center of power.
Siedler publishing company, Munich 2017.
Baumann, Birgit (25.06.2020): Innenministertreffen: Berlin ersucht Wien um entschärfte Reisewarnung.
Bild (07.07.2020): The Söder Plan: Operation: "Eligible for everyone".
BR (12.07.2020): Why Röttgen believes in the Söder- chancellorship.
Casdorff, Stephan-Andreas (06.07.2020): Freedom, ecology, digitization. Operation Söder starts.
Crolly, Hannelore (08.07.2020): Carnevalists rebell: "Maybe Laschet is still fogged up from the Gütersloh case".
Focus. online (07.06.2019): After the election success of the Danish comrades: Gabriel recommends the SPD stricter migration policy.
Haselberger, Stephan/ Monath, Hans (01.02.2016): "I pray for Angela Merkel every day".
Hernández-Morales (12.07.2020): Germans favor tougher EU asylum policy: Poll.
Hirt, Nicole (16.04.2020): The regime's long arm - Eritrea and its diaspora.
Leubecher, Marcel (13.07.2020): Migration: A mega project - "toxic and highly ideological".
Morgenpost (05.07.2020): Chancellor question: Merz considers candidacy of Markus Söder unlikely.
Müller, Peter (11.04.2020): Corona danger in Greek refugee camps. Twelve children as a top priority.
Niejahr, Elisabeth/Schmitz Gregor Peter (25.12.2017): How immigration is changing Germany.
Ntv (14.03.2019): Despite Hungary's apology: Söder does not believe that the Orban debate has been resolved.
Oldenburger Onlinezeitung (08.04.2020): Söder rejects Eurobonds.
Palmer, Boris (20.09.2019):” We know that asylum seekers are a risk group”.
Peter, Tobias (07.06.2019): With a foreclosure policy to catch votes? The "Danish model" would rob the SPD of its dignity.
Plück, Maximilian (20.06.2020): "Because Romanians and Bulgarians entered there". Laschet's thoughtless statements fuel resentments.
RBB (18.09.2017): Green leadcandidate Göring-Eckardt at Radioeins: A little bit of Jamaica.
Schuler, Katharina (10.05.2017): Armin Laschet: The nice foreigner understander becomes strict.
Spiegel. online (26.06.2019): Scholz warns SPD of Danish model.
Ibid. (04.03.2020): Children, pregnant women and traumatized people. Bundestag refuses to accept 5000 refugees from Greece.
Tagesschau.de (14.10.2018): Bavarian state election 2018: The Greens.
Ibid. (26.05.2019): European Election Germany 2019. Party competences.
Tagesspiegel (06.04.2019): Revenge with the Left: Wagenknecht sees alienation from the poor.
Von Bullion, Constanze ( 15.06.2020): Refugees: SPD opposes Seehofer's asylum plans.
(Die) Welt (08.10.2016): Markus Söder: "Bavaria is the most charitable organization in Germany".
Ibid. (08.07.2018): "Asylum tourism": Söder defends term.
Ibid (10.07.2020): ZDF-Politbarometer: Markus Söder clearly leads chancellor ranking.
Ibid. (11.07.2020): Forsa: Only Söder could beat Scholz and Habeck - Laschet without a chance.
ZDF: (09.05.2020): Coronavirus pandemic- Laschet: open border with France, now!
(Die) Zeit (12.11.2017): Jamaica coalition: "For the Greens it is 0:10".
Ibid. (01.03.2020): The Green Party calls on the EU to accept refugees.
All sources checked for the last time on: 15.07.2020
Stefan Drexler is a political scientist with a focus on electoral research, migration and center-right parties in Central Europe. He is currently doing his doctorate at the University of Passau and the Andrássy University in Budapest. Previously, he had studied political science in Passau and international relations in Budapest. He was a scholarship holder of the Hanns-Seidel Foundation and a participant in the Hans-von-Dohnányi program of the Hungarian Parliament in 2016. He is a member of the CSU.