In any case, he is not lacking in satisfaction with his own actions these days. But the fact that nobody likes to praise him does not want to get into the head of the federal interior minister. “Now it was a humane decision again. And I’m proud,” says Horst Seehofer. He wants to say something else, but the President of the Bundestag cuts him off without further ado. “Thank you very much,” says Wolfgang Schäuble. “But we have a lot of questions. Please stop at the red light.”
Wednesday afternoon in the plenary session of the Bundestag in Berlin, Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer came to Question Time. MEPs ask, ministers have to answer, and fast, that’s how this format works. If a red lamp flashes in the plenary, there is enough talk. Not every top politician loves this parliamentary spectacle, in which the actors of great politics have to get along without a machine and the usual prompts. Seehofer, however, does not seem to shy away from the skirmish on Wednesday.
It has been a week since the Moria refugee camp burned down on the Greek island of Lesbos. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been sitting on the streets, with little more than a lack of prospects. A new warehouse is now to be built, the European Union wants to get involved, at some point. The federal government has announced that it will take in refugees, if necessary single-handedly. First there was talk of 150 unaccompanied minors. Ridiculous, found Social Democrats, Greens, Leftists, Mayors, church and citizens, and possibly the Chancellor. A further 1,553 refugees from five Greek islands are now to be allowed to enter, all families who have already gone through an asylum procedure in Greece and have been granted protection.
During Question Time in the Bundestag, Horst Seehofer rose leisurely from his seat on the government bench. He puts his left hand in his pocket. And even if he hardly moves for the next hour: He now sometimes looks like Wong Fei Hung, the legendary master of kung fu, who has to fend off attackers from all sides in the fight for the right cause. Only what is right has to be clarified.
The Greens criticize that nobody knows what happens when a reception center is full
The first attacker comes from the right. It is the AfD member Gottfried Curio, a friend who tries hard to answer questions. “The extortion of the arson is the ticket to Germany,” warns the MP, who sees more refugee camps burning on Greek islands if Germany now opens its doors to migrants. “We are not forgetting what the Greeks have achieved these days,” replied Seehofer. When Turkey recently tried to push thousands of refugees across the border into the EU, Greece countered. An important contribution to European integration, says Seehofer, “we shouldn’t forget that”.
And where are the promised return agreements, without which rejected asylum seekers often cannot be deported to their countries of origin, the AfD MP wants to know. “Up to now I am the only interior minister in Europe who has put forward a proposal for the humane solution. I think we should be proud of that,” replied Seehofer. The number of asylum seekers has fallen drastically and is significantly lower than in 2015. “Implementing humanity and order, we’re doing very well.”
Seehofer has hardly turned away from his interrogator when Christoph Hoffmann from the FDP asks why development aid minister Gerd Müller from the CSU actually “jumped into the cross with his party friend Seehofer”. When Seehofer had just confirmed entry to Germany for 150 unaccompanied minors, Müller demanded that 2,000 people be taken over. “It is part of my political path in life that party friends sometimes treat you with special affection,” replied the Federal Minister of the Interior, happily. Not everyone in the plenary is happy too.
In the end, Seehofer looks a bit exhausted
“Mr. Seehofer, we’ve been listening to this for five years now,” says the Green politician Luise Amtsberg. She has long since lost patience with German and European migration policy. New reform promises would be made, faster asylum procedures announced and modern reception centers on the outer edges of the EU. The result in the camps on the Greek islands: “Overcrowding and the associated inhumane conditions.” Nobody knows what actually happens if one of the planned reception camps is full at some point. Would the Federal Minister of the Interior agree that no European solution to the refugee question would be possible “without a permanent system of distribution” for refugees?
“The approval is partial,” says Seehofer, who now sidesteps and explains that he has been fighting “for years” for a permanent distribution mechanism for migrants in Europe. Only a lot of EU states didn’t take part. But all those who absolutely did not want to take in refugees should pay in future, including for increased development aid. This is the only way to prevent young people from moving to Europe. The Green politician Amtsberg waves it off, “hot air”. Seehofer then goes on to attack. “I have zero point zero support from governments where Greens are involved,” he scoffs. What is meant is Austria, whose government does not want to accept a refugee from Lesvos.
The SPD wants to know where all the money gone that the EU transferred to the Greeks for refugees. The left accuses Seehofer of a blockade. “Please pay attention to the red light,” shouts the President of the Bundestag. When it’s over, Horst Seehofer sinks into his seat. He looks a bit exhausted now.