"We can do it" five years on

Five years ago, on 31 August 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced at a press conference: "We can do it." Although her words initially received little attention, today they are among the central statements of the refugee crisis. Commentators examine whether Merkel's words have been borne out by the facts.

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Where the chancellor failed

The German government was overwhelmed by events as they unfolded, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung concludes:

“In autumn 2015, limits were reached. ... Even tolerant and open societies like Germany are only so willing to take in newcomers. Once this limit is exceeded, it inevitably leads to counter-reactions. The main accusation that must be levelled at the chancellor and her cabinet is that they ignored these interdependencies. ... The German government temporarily lost control of the situation. It was unable to intervene and find a compromise between humanitarian generosity and national interest. While we needn't say it was a failure of the state, it was and remains a failure.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

The reverse side of the historic declaration

The crisis is far from over, De Volkskrant points out:

“Even five years after 'We can do it', the EU is still locking a large number of refugees away in Greek refugee camps. These places are the eyesore of the world's richest and most developed continent, where people like to shake their heads about the Mexican Wall and Donald Trump's cages, but prefer not to think about Moria. The Greek reception centres were supposed to be transit camps, but for many they sadly became the end of the line. ... Pushing boats back into the sea and sending people back to Turkey without a legal basis is not allowed, but it happens anyway. There is still a lot that 'we can do'.”

Respekt (CZ) /

Integration continues, reasons to flee remain

Respekt sees the results of Merkel's refugee policy as mixed:

“Integration here in Germany continues - while at the same time it's clear to all observers that the process will take at least two generations. But Merkel's sentence 'We can do it' also contained the promise of a truly pan-European asylum system. Because when needy people flee their homes it doesn't solve the root of the problem in Africa or the Middle East, and even for Germany there are limits to how many refugees it can take in. In addition, politicians must also consider citizens who fear that the arrival of so many people from other cultures will transform their homeland beyond recognition.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Immigration being viewed too negatively

Politicians should finally start focusing on the positive aspects of immigration, demands Der Standard:

“At the moment, people are more afraid of getting infected with coronavirus than of people of foreign origin. But we can safely predict that the 'issue of foreigners' will return - and it will most likely become unappetising again. For we've learned little from the crisis back then. And the politicians have learned the least. ... The political fixation on the issue of foreigners has so far been mainly negative. Many still do not see that immigration also offers opportunities.”