Martin Schulz's Refugee Gamble
Politicians try to make refugees an election issue two months ahead of the polls. This could upset a delicate balance across Europe, writes a policy expert.
Spare a thought for Martin Schulz, the Social Democrats’ candidate to challenge Angela Merkel for the office of chancellor. Only a few months ago, upon being nominated, he rode a wave of euphoria. But so far his campaigning on “social justice” does not pay off in the polls. Now, with only about eight weeks to go until the election, he needs a new topic. And it seems that he has chosen to attack Ms. Merkel on her refugee policy. By doing so, Mr. Schulz could unwittingly cause challenges for himself, but also for Germany and the whole of Europe.
Mr. Schulz is leveling three charges against Ms. Merkel’s refugee policy.
But Mr. Schulz goes on to demand that other EU countries take in more refugees in the coming months, to relieve Italy of the growing number of new arrivals via the Mediterranean. Making this demand now, in the summer 2017, would again irritate key German partners: Austria is facing elections soon, the Netherlands is still trying to form a government and French President Emmanuel Macron needs support from Germany more than ever. What Mr. Macron does not need in summer 2017 is another German-inspired policy he cannot sell to the French electorate. Instead, any European refugee policy must be forged in Franco-Italian-German cooperation instead of being based on unilateral proposals. Anything else will trigger nationalist backlashes.