It’s a complex topic which is being reduced down to a few buzz words in the current refugee debate: ‘Flüchtlingslager’, ‘Familiennachzug’, ‘Sicherer Herkunftsstaat’, ‘Festung Europa’, ‘Drittstaatenregelung’… ‘Obergrenze’. It’s a geopolitical, legal and ethical minefield for public discourse, spilling over into intensive social-media commentary with positions signalised by the use (or absence) of value-loaded terminology.
The term ‘Obergrenze’ (meaning ‘upper limit’) taps into one aspect of this debate: the desire for control and accountability. Concepts are slippery and more difficult to defend. A number allows a measure of confidence and is seen as empirically safe. There is an end in sight, a concrete outcome for national sovereignty, and perhaps a metaphorical beheading for Merkel if she fails to limit the intake to this politically determined quota.
It is therefore not surprising that members from the CDU and the CSU in particular are agitating for a number to be set. The concept of a nebulous outcome, based upon transnational agreements upholding the sanctity of asylum as an inalienable right, strikes at national and state-based sovereignty. Bayern has enjoyed its special status in the German Federation, largely cemented in agreements between Ludwig II and Otto von Bismarck which have preserved this ‘State within a State’ mentality. Hence Horst Seehofer’s continuing agitation against Merkel, notwithstanding his latest shabby performance at the CSU conference.
In essence, the ‘Obergrenze’ talk is cut from the same fabric of the NPD platform, the ‘Boat is full’ slogan propounded since the 1990s. The AfD have also featured this slogan in a recent press release, with Gauland no less leading the charge. For those who argue that the country cannot sustain an influx of refugees, any number suggested would probably be too high.
This is the real problem: The desire (or lack thereof) to be engaged in a process of integration is tempered by the prospect of people who look different from us, who are non-European and have a different religion. When Merkel states ‘We can do this!’, the reply is direct, ‘We don’t want to do this!’ Some within the major parties (such as the next probable CSU leader Markus Söder have made hit-and-run comments linking terrorism to refugees, in an attempt to influence the direction of policy. Such actions put political pressure on our leaders to give a number.
Merkel has continued to swerve around this question. Around her, individual states are starting to declare their position on this question. What is required is a clear response – that binding legal definitions and agreements are not dependent upon quantity, rather the dire position of vulnerable and desperate people.