Lunch Talk Özdemir Rust Özel

Cem Özdemir in discussion with Jannik Rust and Soli Özel

At the event „Still a European Turkey? Election Gambit, Kurdish Question and Turkey’s Quest for a Stable Middle East” with Soli Özel and Cem Özdemir, we asked the Federal Chairman of the Alliance '90/The Greens a few questions on the role of Germany in the current refugee crisis and the civil war in Syria.

In a recent interview, you said that the politics of open doors of Chancellor Angela Merkel is controversially discussed within the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria. Do you mainly see the danger internally, within her party? Or do you think that her position in refugee politics could also have an influence on the voters?

So far, Ms. Merkel hasn’t been used to taking the reins. Now she is confronted with a situation in which you either shrink and are swept away or grow. At this stage, I cannot say what we’ll see in the end.

The main problem lies within her own party. Unlike the German Social Democrats, the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria are not parties that permanently criticize their own chancellors. They are rather chancellor election committees. It will be hard for Merkel to ignore the critical voices from her party base. It will be interesting to see who is going to prevail.  

As a citizen of Germany, I naturally want the position of Ms. Merkel to prevail. Because we need a political majority that, in turn, enables majorities within society, in favor of receiving, accepting, and integrating refugees into our society.

Recently, Horst Seehofer criticized the chancellor for her attitude in the refugee politics and emphasized the limited capacities of Germany to welcome refugees. The Federal President expressed concerns as well. What is your position towards limiting the numbers of arriving refugees?

The Federal President and others are reminding us that receiving refugees is no easy task but a great challenge. It can be assumed that most of the incoming refugees will stay in Germany because, unfortunately, the situation in their home countries is unlikely to improve in the near future. This means that we have to make sure that refugees learn German as fast as possible. German language skills are important in order to activate the professional skills of each person and to allow for their implementation. But we also have to talk about cultural integration. Every person who comes to Germany has to know into what country he or she is coming, namely into a land of the fundamental law, our Constitution, into a secular country, in which freedom of religion is guaranteed, as is the freedom from religion.

All this will not happen by itself. It has to be organized. We are a country which, through its history, has a lot of experience with assimilation, for example, with the Huguenots, the Waldensians, or the Polish migrants to the Ruhr area. But we don’t have much experience with what it’s like to live with  diversity while at the same time being one community, with a common bond. In summary: We have to make an “Us” out of “Them”, respectively, we have to formulate a new “Us”.

What Mr. Seehofer and others are doing is cheap propaganda. I don’t think this will pay off for them. The only ones who will profit are the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, AfD) and others on the far-right outside the democratic spectrum. Of course democratic parties have to address and provide a political home for people who have fears. But they must not fuel fears. Otherwise we could end up in a similar situation like we are experiencing right now in Austria or other countries in Europe, where right-wing populist parties are on the rise again.

You said that Germany could play an important role in mediating between the conflicting parties in the Syrian war. You even mentioned that you could imagine organizing a peace conference in Berlin. What makes Germany such an important player? And when will the conference take place?

Germany played a positive role in the negotiations over the nuclear deal with Iran. I hope that Germany will continue its foreign policy of active diplomacy. Also in the case of Syria! I think it is a shame that Syria is getting back into public view only now that refugee numbers are rising. Assad has been throwing barrel bombs long before. And ISIS has been slaving women and killing people in a horrible way for quite a while. All of this is not new.

We have to do everything we can to find a solution to the conflict in Syria. We have to include Syria’s neighbors in that – and we won’t be able to get around Russia either. The main goal has to be a ceasefire and to make sure that people have access to humanitarian care. Every day that goes by is a catastrophe and a failure of the international community. This is why we have to do everything we can to find a solution within the framework of the United Nations. As far as I am concerned – and I am saying this as someone who believes that Assad should be sent to The Hague – bringing Assad safely to Moscow is one option, if this means an end to the violence. Germany should support these efforts to reach a diplomatic solution with all its strength.

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