Protesters wave German flags, alongside a banner saying 'Rapefugees Not Welcome' Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

The Battle for Germany’s Soul

Although the flow of migrants and refugees into Europe is far below what it was in 2015 and 2016, immigration remains a hot-button issue across the continent. In Germany, an escalating debate over migrant and refugee policies could even decide the future of the country's role in Europe, and of European integration more generally.

STOCKHOLM – One year after the death of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the country he led for 16 years seems to be struggling with whether or not to follow his legacy.

For Kohl, Germany’s history and central position in Europe meant that it must never pursue national greatness as an end in itself. To his mind, the country with more neighbors than any other country on the continent should not throw its weight around. Rather, it should uphold an idea of Europe in which all countries, large and small, feel equally secure.

But since the start of the refugee crisis in the fall of 2015, Kohl’s vision of Europe has been under attack. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has continued to press for cooperative migration and refugee policies within the European Union, a growing chorus of voices in Germany is advocating unilateral action that would most likely come at the expense of other EU member states.

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