published on German Politics 17 Jan 2019
At the height of the migration crisis (between autumn 2015 and summer 2016), Germany's role in EU migration policy and EU-Turkey affairs went through a period of change. Searching for effective instruments, the German government attempted to lead European policies, managing the crisis first through an ‘open door’ approach and then through an agreement with Turkey. The notion of ‘Merkel's migration deal’ and a ‘German Alleingang’ became prominent in political, public and academic debate. With the aim of assessing whether or not these terms correctly describe Germany's role, this article unpacks the complex Ankara-Berlin-Brussels triangle. It examines how structural and institutional power influenced the German role. We argue that, under extreme time pressure, Germany took refuge in a constrained type of leadership. Positions of other EU member states and institutions, as well as domestic factors (social tension, public opinion and the rise of the far right) inhibited the leadership potential. Additionally, the paper elaborates on differences between the EU's internal and external crisis management. In external migration policy, German leadership took the form of a flexible ‘institutional directoire’, through which Germany successfully negotiated an EU-Turkey statement on migration, in consultation with EU institutions and selected national leaders.