Merkel said the asylum-seekers who carried out attacks “insult the country which took them in,” and she announced new measures that would improve security, including better information and intelligence sharing. But it’s her comments on her migrant policy—the most generous in all of Europe—that are likely to draw the most attention. These events would have seemed improbable in Germany just six years ago.
In 2010, Merkel, amid a growing anti-immigrant sentiment, famously said multiculturalism had “failed, absolutely failed.” It had, in fact, failed for a reason. Germany had always expected its “guest workers,” who came mostly from Turkey in the 1960s and ’70s, to leave like the “guests” they were supposed to be. They did not. Many stayed, had children, and lived mostly separate lives from Germans. This gave birth to “multi-kulti,” the idea that foreign-born workers could live in Germany without fully embracing it—the very same idea that Merkel deemed a failure six years ago. Her policy was one of integration: Germany would make an effort to integrate the newcomers and, in turn, the newcomers would make an effort to integrate in Germany.
But as recently as July 2015, when Europe hadn’t yet woken up to the crisis across the Mediterranean, Merkel’s awkward exchange with a tearful Palestinian girl perhaps summed up Germany’s unease toward migrants and asylum-seekers. The teenage girl told Merkel in fluent German she wants to go to university, but feared her family, who came from a refugee camp in Lebanon, would be deported. Merkel replied: “Politics is sometimes hard. … If we now say, ‘You can all come.’ ... We just can’t manage that.” Her reply drove the girl to tears, and Merkel walked over to pat her back. She then said: “I know it’s a difficult situation. … [but] you’ve shown … a lot of other people what type of situation you can end up in.” (The girl and her family were eventually granted German residency.)
The humanitarian crisis spawned by the Syrian civil war changed everything. Last year, amid the raging conflict, Merkel announced an open-door policy for Syrians fleeing the violence, resulting in a series of events that have had wide-ranging consequences not only for Germany, but also for Europe. More than 1 million, mostly Syrian asylum-seekers entered Europe last year, about three times the number for 2014. The overwhelming majority of them went to Germany. As European nations struggled with the most-severe refugee crisis since the end of World War II, Germany felt its impact, too. There were massive anti-migrant protests across the country spearheaded by an anti-Muslim group (there were large counter-protests, as well); unease in some German communities about the newcomers; and questions about their ability to integrate.
At the time, Merkel had simply told Germans: “We can do it.” At her news conference in Berlin on Thursday, she reiterated those remarks, and added: “I didn’t say 11 months ago that it would be a simple matter that we could easily solve.”