Why Germany’s Plan to Fight Anti-Semitism through Expelling Immigrants Doesn’t Add Up

Early in January the deputy chairman of the Bundestag’s center-right CDU/CSU fraction, Stephan Harbath, announced a new proposal to counter rising anti-Semitism in Germany. Slated to be released in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27th, he told Die Welt that it would allow for the expulsion of migrants who express an anti-Semitic worldview. He emphasized that the law was especially targeted at migrants from Africa and the Middle East. 

“We must also resolutely oppose the anti-Semitism of migrants with an Arab background and from African countries.” – Stephan Habarth, CDU/CSU

The final resolution, passed by the Bundestag in mid-January with support from all parties except for Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Die LINKE, lays out a range of new measures meant to fight the alleged rise of anti-Semitism, including the appointment of a new minister responsible for anti-Semitism (Antisemitismusbeauftragte/n) to coordinate activities across the different ministries and states. While the resolution points out that anti-Semitism can come from different backgrounds, it also highlights that it has “a special breeding ground” in Africa and the Middle East, which would seem to be a reference to the people who have immigrated from those regions to Germany in the last few years. The resolution thus, in number six, calls for a strengthening of the ability to expel immigrants on the basis of anti-Semitism.

German states should “ensure that the possibilities of § 54 (1) no. 5 of the Residence Act are consistently applied to foreigners who call for anti-Semitic hatred. It is the will of the German Bundestag to counter the call for hatred against sections of the population and the endangerment of peaceful coexistence by intellectual arsonists early on by classifying this behavior as a particularly serious expulsion interest.”

In other words, the Bundestag is calling on states to expel non-German individuals if they incite anti-Semitic hatred. Can they do that? Let’s take a closer look at the provision being referred to.

Expulsion for Incitement: Is that legal?

Rather than proposing a new law, the Bundestag is calling for an expanded interpretation of current law, specifically, a provision of the Residence Act.


Section 54 (1) (5)

There shall be a particularly serious public interest in expelling the foreigner […] where the foreigner incites others to hatred against sections of the population; this shall be assumed to be the case where he or she exerts a targeted and permanent influence on other persons in order to incite or increase hatred against members of certain ethnic groups or religions, or he or she publicly, in a meeting or by disseminating writings in a manner which is suited to disturbing public safety and law and order,

  1. a) incites others to undertake arbitrary measures against sections of the population,
  2. b) maliciously disparages sections of the population and thus attacks the human dignity of others or
  3. c) endorses or promotes crimes against peace, against humanity, war crimes or acts of terrorism of comparable severity,

unless the foreigner recognizably and credibly distances himself or herself from his or her actions.


The language of this act is vague. For instance, what does “targeted and permanent” mean? What would constitute “credible distance”? And most importantly, why hasn’t this law already been used for anti-Semitic incitement, since nothing in the law as it is written rules that out?

A review of the case law on section 54(1)(5) makes two things clear: 1) This law has almost exclusively been used to expel people on basis of suspicion of “Islamist terrorism” and 2) the standards for expulsion are quite high.

All of the cases we reviewed related to expulsions of individuals on suspicion that they were members of a terrorist group from their own home country. (See, for instance, here, here, here). These suspicions were often based on their associations with other alleged members, their having donated money to alleged terrorist causes, or possession of materials related to a terrorist group. Often, German courts found this type of evidence was not enough to warrant expulsion.

German courts have repeatedly held that expulsion can only be justified by facts that support a “high probability” that the person is “present danger”. Past membership in a group, past statements, and previous behavior are only indicators in so far that meet this burden. A person who has since distanced him/herself or cut off contacts with the group in question effectively counters the suspicion of present danger.

Also worth noting: There is no case where an individual’s statements were enough to have them expelled (and one showing that statements were not enough). The use of 54(1)(5) seems obvious to officials only in the context of membership in a dangerous group constituting a current threat of violence. It’s difficult to imagine how this can be applied to an individual based on anti-Semitic statements views or speech, although it can’t be ruled out.

There have been instances in the past of terror groups with an anti-Semitic worldview  committing violence and murder in Germany, but the members could not possibly have been subject to expulsion because they were German nationals (see, for example, the 2011 case of the National Socialist Underground, a neo-nazi terror group who murdered ten People of Color and migrants).

In fact, the vast majority of illegal anti-Semitic acts in Germany appear to be committed by German nationals with inspired by a right-wing worldview.

Anti-Semitic Crime and Migration: No Convincing Connection

The German Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungschutz) collects statistics on anti-Semitic crimes in Germany. These are divided into several different categories (that deserve more critical attention another time):

  • right-wing
  • left-wing
  • “foreigner”
  • “various”

These are further divided into criminal offenses and violent offenses. The first might refer to anti-Semitic graffiti or attacks on property, the second to violent hate crimes (such as assault).

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 11.13.46 AM

As the above chart from the Ministry of Interior‘s expert report on anti-Semitism shows,  the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic crimes since 2001 have been committed by right-wing motivated individuals. In 2001, right-wing motivated anti-Semitic crime accounted for 96% of all cases, by 2015, the percentage was 91% (however, the number of overall crimes had also fallen by 18%). According to information recently obtained from a Bundestag inquiry from Petra Pau, a politician from Die LINKE,  2017 saw a total of 1,453 anti-Semitic crimes, with 95% committed with right wing motivation. This represents an uptick from 2015, but is still down from 2001. However, at 95% the share of right-wing motivated activity also has increased, inching closer to 2001 levels. 

Anti-Semitic Crime

Source: German Interior Ministry

The exception to this trend of anti-Semitic crime being totally dominated by the right-wing is the year 2014, when an unusual number (11%) of the anti-Semitic crimes were committed with “foreign motivation”. In that same year, there was a brief 30 day war in Israel. It seems overwhelmingly likely that the number of “foreign-motivated” crimes in that year were related to this event.

In contrast, in 2015, the year where Germany experienced the highest year of net migration in its history with a total of 1.1 million people, anti-Semitic crime went down, and the percentage of right-wing motivated anti-Semitic crime jumped from 83% to 91%, continuing to rise to the present day even as total numbers of crime remain relatively stable. 

One might conclude from these numbers that the greatest threat of anti-Semitic incitement and violence has continuously been and remains the far right, who has maintained their grip on the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic crimes throughout a period where the migrant population to Germany increased by several million people, many from the countries the CDU/CSU accused of being “special breeding grounds” for anti-Semitism. With easy access to government information documenting these trends, why would the CDU/CSU think that anti-Semitic hatred is effectively fought by focusing on immigrants?

An Appeal to AfD Voters?

As we have demonstrated, the numbers simply do not support an argument that there is an increasing risk of anti-Semitic crime originating from migrants or people with “migration background”. So why did the CDU decide to focus on this population with their press statements, declaration and resolution?

It’s not entirely clear, but one hypothesis worth considering is that the CDU/CSU is attempting to appeal to voters they may have lost to the far-right AfD in the last election. The AfD program is highly pro-Israel (despite having numerous members accused of  Holocaust revisionism) opposed to the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement, and of course, deeply opposed to migration from the Middle East and Africa, as well as to equal rights for German Muslims. By taking a position that casts blame for anti-Semitic hatred onto non-Germans and suggesting that exclusion of people from Middle East and Africa is a way to protect Jews, the CDU/CSU embraces a worldview that is common to the populist far right.

As our research shows, this view appears deeply misguided. The law the Bundestag wants to expand seems very unlikely to result in the successful expulsion of individuals on the basis of their anti-Semitic views. And given that the vast majority of anti-Semitic crime is committed by German nationals with right-wing motivation, this law targets the absolute wrong demographic to show a serious interest in battling anti-Semitism.

In the absence of an alternative explanation, it would appear that the CDU/CSU is taking the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day as an opportunity to push an, at best, symbolic legal solution that falsely demonizes minorities in order to win back right-wing voters. If this is the case, it’s a cynical move that negates rather than remembers the lessons of the Holocaust. 

 

Sources and Further Reading
Anti-Semitism: Union wants to expel Jew-haters (German), Welt,  January 2018
Resolution of the CDU/CSU, FDP, Greens, and SPD: Decidedly Fighting Against Anti-Semitism (German) [PDF] Bundestag, 19th Voting Period.
German Residence Act, Section 54
Ten Murders, Three Nazis, and Germany’s Moment of Reckoning, Jacob Kushner, Foreign Policy.
Anti-Semitism in Germany: Current Developments (German) [PDF], Independent Expert Committee on Anti-Semitism, Ministry of Interior, April 2017 )
Response to Inquiry from Petra Pau, (German) [PDF], From PetraPau.de, February 2018
Immigration and net immigration peaked in 2015, De Statis, Statistisches Bundesamt
Georg Pazderski: No tolerance for anti-Semitism (German) Press Release, Alternative Fuer Deutschland website
Header Image: BMVI on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2EE1mNd (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

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German Elections: Where do the parties stand on asylum, immigration and integration?

Germany’s Bundestag elections are quickly approaching and while many are presenting the outcome as a foregone win for the indefatigable Angela Merkel of the CDU, with nearly half of voters undecided it’s still possible that there are some surprises in store. The only thing that’s for sure? Hardly anyone has read through all the long and jargon-packed campaign platforms that parties have published to present their vision for their future.

Hardly anyone- except us! As usual, Migration Voter presents the run down, straight from the party platforms, of what parties are promising to change or keep the same in the areas of immigration, asylum and integration. We’ll delve in deeper to certain topics over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, we present here an overview of the specific policies proposed by the big six parties. You may think you already know where they stand- prepare to be surprised, as we were.

CDU/ CSU: 2015 won’t be repeated

Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) and Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union)

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Angela Merkel and Joachim Herrmann – Image via Markus Spiske on Flickr (http://bit.ly/2xAPlll) CC by 2.0

Main Proposals:

  • Prevent a repeat of 2015 by reaching deals with third countries to stop people seeking asylum from entering Europe, using the EU-Turkey deal as an example
  • Support a new immigration act that will allow qualified workers with a job contract to migrate to Germany under certain conditions
  • Strengthen external EU borders by providing additional support for external border agency Frontex, and continue to allow internal EU borders until a common EU asylum system has been defined
  • Oppose dual citizenship

There is surprisingly little in the way of direct policy proposals related to refugees and immigrants in the CDU and CSU’s joint platform. In a way that makes sense, since they have their name on most current policies. On the other hand, the program refers in many places to areas of dissatisfaction with Germany’s migration experience, offering reassuring statements that stop short of concrete policy proposals.

The CDU/CSU makes clear in their program that the refugee experience of 2015 will in no way be repeated– important, since the CDU’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the helm. To prevent a repeat, they pledge to keep the number of refugees “permanently low” and are in favor of Europe concluding further treaties with third countries to prevent migration across the Mediterranean- using the model of the EU-Turkey deal. They would also declare North African countries Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria safe countries of origin to enable faster returns of people from those countries. At the same time, they propose a “Marshall Plan” for Africa, an interesting idea that deserves more detail.

They briefly touch on a possible reform to the immigration law to make it possible for people with job offers to migrate to Germany (“Skilled Workers Immigration Act” ). This idea is trendy among other parties as well, but CDU/CSU fails to elaborate further on what such a policy would look like.

“Whatever their background, every single person in Germany is expected to abide by our laws. There will be no exceptions in this respect. Integration is beneficial to both sides and prevents the emergence of parallel societies.”

Their other mentions of immigrants are normative but lack concrete policy recommendations to back them up. For instance, they write that they expect all people in Germany to follow the Consitution, regardless of whether they have “migration background”. They want to prevent the emergence of “parallel societies” and multiculturalism, preferring instead German leading culture (Leitkultur) and regional or local cultures. . The platform fails to explain what German leading culture is. The reference to the preservation of regional or local cultures leaves the reader slightly confused. They think everyone should speak German, and respect the existence of Israel. It’s unclear, however, how such statements translate into policies- aside from a mention of opposition to dual citizenship.

In short, the CDU has kept it vague on the issue of immigration and asylum this time around, perhaps preferring to stand on their record, or hoping to change the subject to less controversial terrain.


SPD: European solidarity to handle migration

Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands)

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Martin Schulz- via SPD Saar on Flickr, (http://bit.ly/2esoYcI) (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • Support sharing of asylum management across EU countries, i.e. people who arrive in the EU to seek asylum are distributed amongst member states. Countries who participate should receive financial support from the EU.
  • Create a new immigration law based on the Canadian model: a points-based system that will allow qualified individuals with a job offer to come to Germany if they meet certain requirements.
  • Permanent Residents should have the right to vote in local elections.

As we have previously discussed, the SPD’s program in relation to asylum and refugees is heavily tilted towards EU-wide solutions. This is a reasonable position given the EU-wide scale of the phenomenon but contains an inherent weakness for a domestic electoral platform in that it contains many positions which cannot be directly achieved by the party in power in Germany, only with the acquiescence of other EU member states.

That being said, the SPD also has some domestic policies in mind. First off, they would continue to support a “thorough and careful” asylum procedure. They would increase support for people who work in the field of integration and expand language courses, education, and training. They also support gender-appropriate housing solutions for women and the LGBT community.

The party says it prefers voluntary returns to forced deportations and wants to punish countries who do not accept people returning after their applications were rejected by, for instance, failing to issue visas to that country. In addition, they would end deportations to Afghanistan.

The SPD would propose a new employment-based immigration act for Germany, reflecting their view of a “modern, cosmopolitan Germany.” It would be modeled after the Canadian system, including a points system for qualified professionals who have a job offer.

Finally, the SPD would extend the right to vote to some non-German citizens: people with permanent residency would have the right to vote in local municipal elections. (Current German voting law dictates that EU citizens have the right to vote in local municipal elections, but only German citizens can vote on the state and national level. Thus, currently, all third-country nationals – any citizen of a country outside of the EU, are precluded from voting in any German election.)


FDP: Market-based Migration

Free DemocraticParty  (Freie Demokratische Partei)

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Christian Lindner- Image via Dirk Vorderstraße on Flickr http://bit.ly/2espl72 (CC by 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • The right of asylum should be available only in individual cases of persecution. People fleeing from conflict should be able to receive temporary protection only until the conflict or war is over – then they must return to their countries of origin.
  • Support the creation of a humanitarian visa after the Swiss model that would offer a person under a concrete, life-endangering threat the chance to come to Germany and avoid a dangerous journey.
  • Germany needs a new point-based immigration system
  • Dual citizenship should be allowed, up to a point

The FDP’s liberal approach to migration reflects its market-based priorities, while still allowing for asylum in clearly defined and limited cases.

While it describes the right to asylum as unassailable and opposes an “upper limit” to the numbers of people able to receive asylum, the FDP seeks to limit asylum through several proposals. First, asylum for people fleeing war should be temporary and individuals who receive protection must return as soon as the conflict has ended. Second, they would create a humanitarian visa after the “Swiss model,” according to which individuals under acute, specific threat of death could apply for a visa to come to Germany to seek asylum. (However, even for Switzerland, the chance of obtaining such a visa is incredibly small.)

“We Free Democrats want Germany to have an immigration law and finally a modern citizenship right from a single source – just like other successful immigration countries.”

In terms of migration, the FDP also calls for a new immigration system, which would allocate points based on language skills, education, and qualifications to allow people to immigrate to Germany. Under their system, refugees who meet the same level of qualifications could also apply. In addition, the FDP calls for easing bureaucracy by simplifying recognition of foreign accreditation and degrees, and to make English a working language in administrative offices– both of which would theoretically make life easier for newcomers hoping to enter the job market. Another help is that the FDP would abolish priority entrance for Germans over non-Germans to jobs and housing.

Finally, the party has specific ideas about integration. They think people with refugee status should receive individualized, “modular” integration courses suited to their specific needs and stage in the process. In addition, they propose that dual citizenship should be available, upon request, to people meeting certain conditions or by birth, up until the grandchildren of the original holder.


Die LINKE: Right to Stay for All

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Sarah Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch. Image via Die Linke on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2ew384o (CC by 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • A new ministry should be created for dealing with immigration and integration, and there should be a new ombudsman for refugee issues 
  • Anyone residing in Germany with an insecure residency status for over five years should get a right to remain
  •  End “Residenzpflicht”/residence requirement the obligation for people seeking asylum to remain in the same area for the duration of the asylum process (restriction on freedom of movement)
  • Oppose deportation in principle, and especially in certain circumstances (e.g, when a person would face a medical emergency, discrimination or homelessness in their home country)
  • Anyone born in Germany should have access to citizenship as well as the right to hold multiple nationalities
  • Permanent residents should be entitled to vote at all levels of election

Die LINKE (the Left) has a great deal to say about migration and asylum in their platform, and though much of it is simply supportive, as opposed to elaborating on a specific policy, we have drawn out some of the main policies.

Like the SPD and Greens, Die LINKE wants to fight the problems that cause people to flee their countries and offer safe pathways to Europe to prevent deaths at sea. They support fair trade and development of sending countries and reject the “dirty” Turkey deal and others proposed deals with third countries to prevent people from entering Europe.

“Good and affordable living space for everyone! To accommodate asylum seekers in emergency and mass shelters is inhuman, expensive and anti-integration.”

Unlike the other left-leaning parties however, Die LINKE unequivocally calls for an end to deportations and a right to stay (“Bleiberecht”) for all. Refugees should have access to the labor market after 3 months without limits on minimum wage, and should have access to decentralized social housing rather than mass shelters. Die LINKE would abolish the Residenzpflicht policy that restricts freedom of movement for people seeking asylum within a region or municipality. Those who have been in a precarious status for at most five years should receive a residence permit.

Die LINKE would also provide additional grounds to prevent deportation, such as gender-based grounds, allowance for people who were victims of right wing violence, and right to stay for people who would otherwise be forced into homelessness, medical emergency or discrimination in their home country. (This seems to be an explicit nod to Roma and Sinti from the Balkans, who have been subject to deportation in the past.) Die LINKE also supports establishing an ombudsman for refugee issues.

Die LINKE wants to abolish the current residence law and provide a path to legal residence and naturalization for all. People without legal residence would be granted residence and work permits, and people who have been legally residing in Germany for three years would be entitled to naturalization. In addition, all children born in Germany would be entitled to citizenship (and multiple citizenships), a model known as “birthright citizenship” (the US has such a policy.) This liberalization would also stretch to voting rights: Die LINKE supports voting rights for permanent residents at all levels of elections.

Another change they propose is to move the responsibility for migration and integration out of the Ministry of Interior and into a new federal agency. Under their plan, the federal government would also shoulder all costs associated with housing, healthcare and integration of refugees and migrants, to take financial pressure off of municipalities.

In addition, to ensure equal education for all, they would support an emergency training program for teachers, social workers, and language teachers.


AfD: (Some) Refugees Not Welcome

Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland)

AfD Bundesparteitag 23. April 2017 in Köln

Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland (image: Olaf Kosinsky / kosinsky.eu)

Main Proposals:

  • Make it easier to deport people who have committed even minor crimes, and harder to get citizenship
  • Secure German borders and enable migration only of qualified people as required, guard borders with “safety systems” including fences
  • Only offer asylum to those who can prove their identity
  • Ban family reunification and any special privileges for people from Turkey, ban dual citizenship
  • Restrict religious freedom for Muslims

In their election manifesto, the AfD prioritizes two key themes regarding immigration and asylum: first, the prevention of crimes and terrorism by non-Germans, and second, the necessity of maintaining a “recognizable” Germany by preventing migration of Africans and “Arab Muslims”.

“The goal of the AfD is self-preservation, not self-destruction of our country and people.”

In terms of crime, they are of the opinion that non-Germans are disproportionately responsible for crime and terror in Germany. They, therefore, propose new regulations making it easier to deport people for even minor crimes. In addition, they want to prevent people who have ever committed crimes from becoming German citizens by abolishing the right to citizenship. They also propose removing citizenship from those people who commit crimes within ten years of being naturalized. They would also denationalize German citizens with connection to “criminal clans”, even if this would leave the person stateless, in violation of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which Germany has been a party to since 1977. (We discussed a similar proposal that Marine Le Pen made here).

The AfD frames their migration policy as an attempt to prevent a demographic inevitability. Noting that the populations of Africa and “Arab Muslims” are increasing while Europe suffers an aging population and declining birth rate, the platform suggests that the larger, poorer population of the Global South must inevitably migrate to the richer, more sparsely populated European countries, causing migration that will destabilize Germany and leave it “unrecognizable.” Thus, it is necessary to change migration policy as a means of “self-preservation.”

What they have in mind for this change is an array of restrictive or harsh policies towards immigration that at times contradict one another. For instance, they would secure the borders to be guarded by “safety systems” including fences but allow for migration of qualified workers as needed. Asylum would still be offered to those who can prove their identity using certain “legal and technical prerequisites” that they do not elaborate on. They propose that individuals seeking asylum are not brought to Europe in the first place but transferred to third countries “after the Australian model.” They also suggest a return to the 1949 German-law version of asylum (which ironically, other parties laud as liberal.)

Under migration, AfD also has the policy that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and calls for several policies which would restrict religious freedom, for instance, banning Islamic studies programs in German universities and banning burqas. However, these policies would apply to Germans and non-Germans alike, so it is unclear why they frame this as a migration issue.


Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen: Refugees and talented immigrants welcome

Union 90/ The Greens (BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN)

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Katrin Göring-Eckardt und Cem Özdemir, Image via gruenenrw on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2vChjA5 (CC BY SA-2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • Protect an absolute right to asylum and no returns to unsafe countries
  • Increase aid funding for foreign development and conflict prevention
  • Develop safe, legal routes for people seeking asylum to prevent deaths at sea
  • Acquisition of birthright citizenship for children born to at least one parent with a residence permit
  • Enable easier, less bureaucratic family reunification
  • Develop a “talent card” that enables qualified individuals to spend a year in Germany in order to look for employment

Although the Green party generally focuses on environmental and social justice issues, they appear to have spent a lot of time developing their proposals on migration and asylum and offer- whether or not you agree with them- one of the most completed plans for both.

The Green Refugee plan consists of four points. First, they aspire to address the root causes of migration and aim to increase development aid. Second, in order to prevent people risking their lives to flee, the Greens back solutions that will prevent people from taking dangerous routes to Europe, for example, a refugee resettlement program with cooperation from UNHCR, meaning individuals would have to obtain refugee status in their country of origin or third country prior to arriving in Germany. Another possible solution would be a humanitarian visa (like FDP suggested) to make it possible for people to legally travel to Europe to seek asylum. 

Third, fair and legal decisions on asylum applications must be made as quickly as possible. They say Germany’s administrative and municipal structure was not adequately prepared for the “humanitarian challenge” of 2015- yet they do not pose concrete ways to improve the situation.

And fourth, anyone who is able to stay must receive support in learning German, finding a job and an apartment- starting from day 1. In the case of those who cannot stay, the Greens support voluntary returns over deportations and absolutely oppose returning people to unsafe countries such as Afghanistan.

“The aging society and the skilled labor force show that Germany is dependent on immigration in the long term. However, the current law is too complicated and makes immigration more difficult.”

The Greens wants to update the immigration law via “The Green Immigration Act” to meet the demands of a country of immigration. They would introduce a “Talent card” (Talentkarte) which allows qualified professionals one year to search for work in Germany. A commission would determine how many cards are allocated, and which qualifications entitle one to a card, including German language skills, possession of insurance and other skills. They would also expand the number of student visas and make it easier to formally recognize foreign degrees and qualifications.

Finally, they would make family reunification easier and less bureaucratic, as they argue that a key to integration is feeling embedded in one’s family.


Sources and Further Reading
Bundestagwahl: Half of voters are undecided, Zeit Online, Aug. 23, 2017 [German]
All the 2017 party platforms in one place
For a Germany that is good to live in: Election Program for the CDU and CSU 2017, CDU [Deutsch, English summary, video version available]
It’s time for more justice: Election Program for the SPD 2017, SPD [Deutsch, video available]
A new way of thinking. FDP Election Program 2017, FDP [Deutsch, English summary available]
Humanitarian Visas, Swiss Refugee Council
Social. Just. Peace. For all. Die Linke Election Program 2017, Die Linke, [Deutsch,  summaries in English +12 other languages, video, GSL, Audio, Braille available.]
Program for Germany: AFD Election Program 2017, AFD, [Deutsch, Audio version available]
UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness, OHCHR, 1961
The future is made of courage: Green Election Program 2017, Die Grüne, [Deutsch, Audio, GSL available]
Featured Image: German Bundestag by Lars Steffens on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0) http://bit.ly/2x4AsLf

Opinion: British “Progressive Alliance” failed from bad politics and bad faith

By Phil Butland

This is the latest in Migration Voter’s opinion series on strategic voting. Read our previous article on France here.

At the beginning of the British election campaign, the Green Party touted the idea of a “progressive alliance” against the Tories. To many people this seemed like a no-brainer. With the Tory manifesto showing the return of the “nasty party”, surely anything would be better than Theresa May coming back into power.

Here’s how a progressive alliance works. One of the peculiarities of the British election campaign is that an MP only needs to win more votes than any other candidate in his or her electoral district. With multiple candidates, most MPs do not even have the support of half the people who voted.

A progressive alliance would mean that in each district the local parties would decide which candidate would be most likely to beat the Tories. All other candidates would stand down, and the result would be a Tory wipe-out.

So why did the progressive alliance not happen? In this article, I will argue that it was a mixture of bad politics, bad faith, and the pessimistic (if, at the time, understandable) view that just because Labour was polling 20% behind the Tories they were incapable of winning on their own.

Bad Politics

Firstly, the bad politics. One of the conditions on which the Greens insisted was the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats in the progressive alliance. This posed a number of problems, not least that just seven years ago the LibDems fought an election campaign based on one major promise  – the withdrawal of tuition fees.

The Liberal Democrat election manifesto of 2010 declared “We will scrap unfair university tuition fees so everyone has the chance to get a degree, regardless of their parents’ income” around the time of the National Union of Students conference in April of that year. LibDem leader Nick Clegg issued a youtube video titled “Say goodbye to broken promises”. The first frame was a piece of paper on which was written “No student tuition fees – Labour”.

libdem vid

On 28 April Clegg claimed tuition fees would double under a Conservative or Labour government: “We think it’s unfair when you graduate and you haven’t even taken your first step in the world of adult work to be saddled with £25,000 worth of debt”. Every Lib Dem candidate who was subsequently elected signed a “Vote for Students” pledge, promising to vote against any rise in tuition fees in the next parliament.

The election resulted in a hung parliament and the LibDems could have joined a coalition government led by Labour or by the Tories. They chose the Tories – who promptly tripled tuition fees. On 9 December 2010, in the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, MPs approved raising the cap on tuition fees by a 323 to 302 vote. 28 LibDem MPs voted for the bill and only 21 voted against. Indeed one of the arguments that claim current LibDem Leader Tim Fallon is somehow progressive is that he was one of the minority of MPs who voted for party policy.

The LibDems propped up the Conservative government for its full term, and were punished at the subsequent election where they lost nearly all their MPs. In 2010, boosted by a strong campaign in student constituencies, 57 LibDem MPs were voted into parliament. In the 2015 election, only eight remained.

But surely they’ll have learned from their mistakes? Apparently not. Under new leader Tim Farron, an evangelical Christian who has received due flak for his views on gay marriage, the LibDems have repeatedly refused to rule out entering another coalition with the Tories. Under these circumstances, they had no need for a progressive alliance – and a progressive alliance had no need for them.

Despite putting on a progressive front, Farron has called abortion “wrong at any time”. Former Campaigns manager to the gay LibDem MP Simon Hughes, Mark Gettleson has said:

“Tim Farron now presents himself as a changed man. He says he now regrets abstaining on equal marriage, despite not distancing himself from his amendments. He’s changed his mind too on his opposition to the Equality Act’s ban on discrimination in the provision of goods and services … But it is not enough to repent of the past when it becomes convenient to do so.”

When Corbyn won the Labour leadership, Farron appealed to the Labour MPs working against Corbyn (and the majority of their party) and Conservatives, telling The Guardian “Over the past few days I have received a number of messages and calls from friends within the Labour party distressed by the direction that their party is taking. To the right, I have talked with a new Conservative MP taken aback by the attitudes that they have encountered within their own party.”

His appeal to centrists in both parties continued in April 2017, when he refused to rule out forming another coalition with the Tories. As with former LibDem leader Nick Clegg, who opposed student fees out of office then helped push them through, we must judge Farron not on what he says but what he has done and what he’s likely to do in the future.

That’s a maybe, but surely Labour could make some deal with the Greens? After all, during the dark years of Tony Blair, the Greens remained the conscience of the nation, with many people – including myself – voting for them as a progressive alternative to Blair’s politics of war and austerity.

Now I could certainly see a good case for the Greens and Labour making a voting alliance, especially in the (many) constituencies held by Labour MPs who have consistently campaigned against Corbyn. Since the general election in 2015, Labour has trebled its membership to over 500.000 people. Although most people have joined because of Corbyn’s leadership, a majority of MPs, and their house journal, the supposedly progressive newspaper The Guardian have tried to undermine him every step of the way.

Following a continuous barrage of Guardian articles declaring Corbyn to be “unelectable” 172 Labour MPs submitted a no-confidence vote in Corbyn with just 40 supporting him. 20 shadow cabinet ministers and around 30 other junior ministers resigned, coordinating their resignations at hourly intervals to sustain media pressure on Corbyn. Nonetheless, in this second leadership election, Corbyn won an increased majority with over 60% of the vote, including a vast majority of individual party members.

Despite this, in the current election campaign, many candidates have openly snubbed the Labour Leadership. Phil Wilson, Tony Blair’s successor as Labour MP for Sedgefield proudly told Facebook that “I am no supporter of Jeremy Corbyn” and “it is my name on the ballot paper here, not Corbyn”. In Newcastle-under-Lyme, Paul Farrelly said that voters would “laugh me off the streets” if he put Corbyn’s policies on his leaflets (

As Corbyn has gained ground on the Tories, both The Guardian and the rebel MPs have largely fallen into line. The Guardian’s sister paper The Observer even claimed that Corbyn “should be commended for the dignified way in which he has dealt with an immensely hostile media onslaught from the rightwing tabloids”, even though some of the greatest hostility came from its own stable. Nevertheless, it is clear that even if Corbyn wins the election, he cannot be sure of the support of the majority of his parliamentary party, and will need the backing of other progressives both inside and outside parliament.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Green’s suggestion of a progressive alliance this time round was tainted by bad faith from the start.

Bad Faith

It wasn’t just the insistence that the LibDems be involved. As soon as Labour wavered on the idea of a progressive alliance, the Greens – and their only MP, the genuinely progressive Caroline Lucas – spent much more time attacking Labour than they did the Tories. A particular low point was their election broadcast of 12 May. This broadcast lambasted Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May equally, while saying that the Greens were the only true anti-establishment party.

And yet what has characterized this election campaign had been Corbyn’s ability to tap into an anti-establishment feeling shared by millions who have suffered under the Tories. Addressing rallies of thousands of people and with the support of actors like Maxine Peake and film directors like Ken Loach, Corbyn has turned the election into a two-horse race. A couple of weeks ago, the Tories led by 20% in the polls. At the time of writing, polls are predicting a hung parliament. A yougov survey for the Sunday Times put support for the Conservatives on 42% and Labour on 38% . On top of this, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists are unlikely to support the Tories, nor are the Greens or Sinn Féin who are likely to take their seats in Westminster for the first time.  And there’s still over a week to go.

Voting intention 1-2 Jun]-01

Corbyn’s success comes from a series of positive demands – for a minimum wage, a decent health service and for humane treatment of refugees , that comes from standing for something. Horse trading with the Greens and particularly the Liberal Democrats would have blunted this message. A progressive alliance is based on preventing the worst from happening and is in its very nature negative and reactive.

The Greens may have called upon Corbyn to join them in stopping the Tories, yet they only have one MP, and their only real chances of getting any more lies in constituencies with Labour MPs. Standing down in other areas would have helped them concentrate their resources – and to save a lot of money they will lose from lost deposits.

Does this mean that a progressive alliance is always a bad idea or that British progressive voters should vote Labour everywhere? I do believe that this time round, all British voters should vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but in two areas there is a case to be made that the Corbyn candidate is not necessarily the Labour candidate.

The first area is Scotland. After decades of Labour misrule and a refusal to address the national question, Labour was punished in Scotland at the last general election, where the SNP ran a left social democratic campaign and won all but 3 of the 59 seats available. One of the few pleasures of the last parliamentary sessions has been watching the 22-year old SNP MP Mhairi Black regularly excoriating the Tories for their soulless policies (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

The Corbyn effect is only just starting to take hold in parts of Scotland, and in many cases, progressive voters will be torn between choosing between the SNP and Labour. Scotland would actually be one place where a progressive alliance could be effective, yet the SNP have no interest in helping Labour try to win back the support that they have squandered in Scotland.

The other constituency where progressives should consider voting against Labour is Bradford West,  where I lived for many years and would be voting if I still had the right to vote in the UK.  Salma Yaqoob is a former leader of RESPECT, the party set up by George Galloway after Tony Blair launched the war on Iraq. In 2017, Salma is standing against Naz Shah, a Labour MP who has gleefully joined the plots against Jeremy Corbyn. There is no question that Salma is the candidate with the better politics and the more personal integrity.

There are still two possible reasons not to vote for Salma. The first would be if her candidacy would split the progressive vote and let the Tories in. This seems to be highly unlikely – and there is some talk of the possibility of Salma actually winning.

The second reason to doubt is that this election – more than most others – will be used to judge the personal and political qualities of the two main leaders – Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. There are many Labour right wingers who will jump on any losses of Labour under Corbyn to remove him and to return the party to its old neo-liberal leadership.

And yet it seems to me – albeit from 1000 kilometres away – that even if Corbyn wins the election (something few people were even considering even a week ago) he will be opposed by most of his own MPs and the presence of someone like Salma in parliament would be of considerable use to him – not to mention the platform it would offer her to speak out for genuine progressive politics.

Lessons for Germany?

Finally, I would like to sum up by asking what this all means for the coming German elections and for the LINKE party, of which I am a member. Many party members are excited by the possibility of die LINKE entering government, as a junior partner to the SPD and Greens. I am more sceptical – not least because taking part in a government following the same austerity programme as today’s SPD would open the way to the mixture of neo-liberals and out-and-out fascists in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) being able to pose as being the “real” anti-establishment party.

But even if die LINKE wants to join a coalition government, Jeremy Corbyn has proved how it is possible to gain electoral support by offering clear, progressive politics. Which is why die LINKE campaign must be centered on supporting the weakest – including migrants and refugees – and fighting together for a better society.

If we limit our offer to saying “at least we’re not as bad as the other lot”, we shouldn’t be surprised if we fail to inspire.


Phil Butland is the speaker of die LINKE Berlin Internationals (https://theleftberlin.wordpress.com/, lag.internationals@die-linke-berlin.de)


Sources and Further Reading
Green Party Urges Electoral Alliance, The Guardian, June 2016
Nasty Party“, Wikipedia
 Liberal Democrat Election Manifesto 2010
Liberal Democrats: Say Goodbye to Broken Promises. Youtube, April 2010
Tuition Fees and the Lib Dems, Channel 4, Oct. 2010
Fact Check: Lib Dem Rebellion on Cards, Channel 4, Oct 10
Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations Act, UK Parliament, 2010
Mark Gettleson: Why Tim Farron’s Record on Gay Marriage MattersHuffington Post, July 2016
Tim Farron: Corbyn win ‘potentially changes everything’ for Lib Dems, The Guardian, Sept. 2015
Tim Farron: Lib Dem leader refuses to rule out coalition with the Conservatives (Video), The Independent, April 2017
Labour shadow cabinet and ministers resignations – the letters in full. The Telegraph, June 2016
Green Party – Party Election Broadcast: 2017 General Election, Youtube, May 2017
SNP MP Mhairi Black “excoriating the Tories” in Parliament (videos): July 2015, Feb. 2016, Dec. 2016, July 2016, Youtube.
Header Image via Andy Miah on Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2qQ7Q1x