Rhetorics of Asylum in Germany and Europe, 1982-1998

The ‘refugee crisis’ has kept Germany and Europe in suspense since the summer of 2015. Controversial arguments about potential legislative reactions to a vast influx of asylum seekers have dominated the political debate, led to a strengthening of right-wing players, and influenced the outcome of elections. The phenomenon of the past few years is not a novelty, however. Germany already experienced a political polarisation caused by what was then called Asyldebatte (asylum debate) during the 1980s and 1990s. Just like today, political actors ramped up their rhetoric and drifted into radical territory. The dispute almost paralysed German politics for a while, and it took years to resolve the issue with a legislative compromise tightening the constitutional right to asylum. Lawmakers in neighbouring countries such as France and the Netherlands reacted quite similarly.

One of the main objectives of this PhD project is to prove that the asylum debate during the era of Chancellor Helmut Kohl was marked by the bipolarity between those who argued in favour of national interests and the preservation of national identity and wealth and those who argued on the basis of morality and human rights standards. That bipolarity is also represented in other political debates but nowhere as distinct as in those about immigration and asylum policy.