Angela Merkel only let thousands of immigrants into Germany because she was worried that if she didn’t there would be clashes with police which would look bad on television.
The extraordinary claim is made in a book by Robin Alexander, a leading German political journalist, published this week.
At the height of the migrant crisis in September 2015 Merkel was warned that 40,000 people were moving from the Balkans through Austria towards Bavaria, southern Germany.
During a telephone conference with Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister, and other top officials, Merkel agreed a measure to seal the border.
Thousands of police were then secretly sent to the Austrian border to stem the influx. German media learnt of the deployment but agreed to a reporting blackout for security reasons.
But then de Maizière approached Dieter Romann, Germany’s most senior policeman, with two questions on behalf of the chancellor. “Can we live with the images that will come out of this?” de Maizière demanded, according to the book. “What happens if 500 refugees with children in their arms run towards the border guards?”
Romann apparently replied that police commanders on the ground would have to decide what to do as the situation developed, prompting Merkel to reverse the original order which said police would push back anyone without a visa.
Germany’s borders then stayed open for a further six months, during which time hundreds of thousands of migrants entered the country.
“For historical reasons, the chancellor feared images of armed German police confronting civilians on our borders,” said Alexander.
The book, Driven by Events: Merkel’s Refugee Policy, completely undermines the idea that Merkel acted from a humanitarian position when she allowed so many immigrants to enter Germany. About 1 million arrived between 2015 and 2016.
“In the end, Merkel refused to assume responsibility even as everything was in place to close the borders, so they remained open,” Alexander added.
Tensions between the German population and the influx of new arrivals have often been strained over the last 18 months as anxieties about cultural differences increase.
Thanks to her decision over immigration, Merkel’s political position looks increasingly precarious ahead of September’s general election.