In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung published online on Tuesday, Merkel seemed as resolute as ever about the decision to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries.
When she first uttered her now often repeated – and mocked – mantra of “we can do this” one year ago, she said she never expected those few words to make such an impact.
“If you asked me before if I would introduce a distinctive phrase that would be quoted many times over, I would not have thought of this phrase.”
At the same time, she said that she used the phrase with “deep conviction… and with the awareness that we were dealing with a difficult and big task.” Merkel said that it was clear there were many hurdles and fears that she needed to dismantle.
Merkel also pointed out that Germany has not always been as proactive as it could be in helping refugees in the not so distant past. She said that after Germany took in a record number of refugees in the early 1990s from former Yugoslavia, the country was hesitant to do the same in the years that followed.
“We in Germany have also long ignored the problem,” the Chancellor said.
“In 2004 and 2005, many refugees came and we let Spain and others at the outer borders deal with it.
“After having taken in so many refugees during the Yugoslavian war, Germany was happy that it was now dealing with other priorities.”
Merkel has also recently faced a drop in approval ratings following several violent attacks in July that involved perpetrators who had sought asylum in Germany. In Würzburg, a 17-year-old Afghan refugee attacked a family on a train with an axe. Within the same week, a Syrian man blew himself up in Ansbach, injuring a dozen others.
German media later reported that both had been in contact with members of Isis.
The Chancellor said that it was “completely understandable” that there has been “unease and concern” following the attacks.
She said it showed that, among refugees there are some who did not arrive with pure intentions. This makes integration a huge challenge, she added.
But she also continued to reject the notion that there was a direct connection between terrorism and having so many refugees in the country.
“It is simply false that terrorism only first came here through refugees. It was already here, especially with the suspected terrorists that we have been monitoring.”
She maintained as well that the hundreds of thousands of refugees remaining in Germany would not change the character of the country.
“Germany will remain Germany, with all that we love and hold dear.”
The country has always undergone change since its inception, Merkel said, but she would not let Germany lose the values and principles that make it attractive.
“These are reflected in our liberality, our democracy, our constitutional state, and in our overwhelming commitment to a social market economy, through which our economic strength can absorb those who are weakest.”