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Merkel’s Mea Culpa

Fresh from a drubbing in regional elections in Berlin, where the nativist Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) won 14 percent of the vote, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is floating new language. The Financial Times:

“If I could, I would rewind time by many, many years so that I could better prepare myself and the whole government and all those in positions of responsibility for the situation that caught us unprepared in the late summer of 2015,” Ms Merkel said.

The chancellor also distanced herself from her phrase — “Wir schaffen das — we can do it” — which captured Germans’ belief last summer in their capacity to integrate the newly arrived refugees. She said it had become “a simple slogan, almost an empty formula” that underestimated the scale of the integration challenge.

This isn’t a complete backtrack by Merkel. The FT notes that she is trying to shade her decision last year to offer a warm welcome to refugees—one she continued to defend as “absolutely right”—by admitting that overall the response has not worked well.

4,000 miles away, it’s hard to tell whether this kind of hedge will be enough. The German press appears to have accepted this change of tone as a sufficient mea culpa, but will German voters agree? To put it more bluntly, are Germans getting antsy simply because of a bureaucratic failure by Berlin to make the process run more smoothly, or are the sentiments the AfD is tapping into more primal and basic than that—a rejection of multiculturalism and integration from first principles?

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