Safe countries of origin: a heartfelt concern of the coalition

The Bundestag will declare several states safe countries of origin. Opposition comes from the Greens. The law will fail in the Bundesrat.

Behind bars, a person obliged to leave the country waits for deportation Photo: dpa

It is rare for a coalition to pass a law that it knows will probably not come into force. But that is exactly what the grand coalition is doing this Friday morning. In the Bundestag, the CDU/CSU and SPD are giving their blessing to a tightening of asylum law that declares Georgia, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco safe countries of origin.

This is a matter close to the heart of the coalition, which hopes to make deportations easier and faster. In the case of safe countries of origin, German authorities assume that there is generally no danger of persecution there. Asylum seekers from these countries must then prove otherwise, which is difficult. In addition, shorter appeal periods apply.

However, the law will probably never see the light of day. This is due to a blockade by the Greens and the Left Party in the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, which must confirm the law. Both opposition parties strongly oppose the idea.

They have good arguments: The Federal Constitutional Court has defined in the past what criteria a country must meet to be classified as "safe." The Basic Law allows the classification only if there is no "inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment" there.

It is extremely doubtful that this is the case in the Maghreb states of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Homosexuality, for example, is punishable by law in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Gays and lesbians can go to prison if they are caught. There, humiliation and violence by police or supervisors are frequent.

Green position remains unchanged

Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock tells the site: "Nothing has changed in our Green position: The instrument of safe countries of origin does not solve any of the aforementioned problems in Germany and, in my view, contradicts the criteria of the Federal Constitutional Court." In view of the democracy efforts in the Maghreb countries, it is even counterproductive, he said. A seal as a safe country of origin, the argument goes, discourages the opposition, which is fighting for democracy.

"That is why we will reject the bill in the Bundestag," Baerbock assures. That is well known. But the decisive factor is the Green behavior in the Bundesrat. There, the eco party co-governs nine state governments – and can therefore block legislation. Baden-Wurttemberg’s Minister President Winfried Kretschmann sees things differently than most Greens. The conservative realo from the southwest would probably approve the law.

The grand coalition had already made an attempt in 2016 – and wanted to declare the three Maghreb states as "safe". At the time, it failed in March 2017 due to Green resistance in the Bundesrat – although Baden-Wurttemberg voted in favor.

Romantics out of touch with reality

The Groko has never dropped the idea since. Conservatives applied pressure in the heated debate over refugees, accusing the Greens of a denialist attitude and portraying them as romantics out of touch with reality. After all, most citizens think it is right to quickly deport people to North African countries – also because of the sexualized violence on New Year’s Eve in Cologne.

For a long time, the Greens considered the Hessian state association, which ticks realpolitik, to be a shaky candidate. A "yes" vote by Baden-Wurttemberg and Hesse would secure a majority for the Greens in the Bundesrat. The Hesse Greens have been in government with the CDU since 2014. And Tarek Al-Wazir, Minister of Economics and strongman of the state association, was already flirting with approval in 2016.

That’s why many Greens were eagerly looking ahead to Hesse’s coalition negotiations after the state elections last October. How would they act on the thorny issue? They remained firm – and agreed to disagree with the CDU. On the issue of classifying states as safe countries of origin, "the coalition partners have different views," the black-green coalition agreement states. If there is no agreement in the cabinet on how to vote in the Bundesrat, the state will abstain.

Blockade in the Bundesrat

In Hesse, the government insists that it will stick to its guns. Green Party state leader Kai Klose, in future Minister of Social Affairs, says: "That’s clear." This means that – as of now – the blockade in the Bundesrat stands.

Among the Greens, this is also seen as a victory for the party leadership, which will soon have been in office for a year. "This is a great success for Annalena," party circles say. Behind the scenes, Baerbock had bombarded her Hessian party colleagues with arguments for weeks – and sworn them to a tough stance.

She is certain that, apart from Baden-Wurttemberg, no state co-governed by the Greens will back out. "Where we co-govern in the states, there will be abstention or rejection in the Bundesrat because of the Green position," she says. She doesn’t even want to give up on Kretschmann just yet. Baden-Wurttemberg has made it clear that its approval depends on a viable concept for the protection of vulnerable groups. To her knowledge, however, this concept is not yet available.

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