Germany's parliament held a rambunctious debate on Thursday about the United Nations Global Compact for Migration, after the Alternative for Germany (AfD) brought a motion calling for Germany to withdraw from the agreement, following the US and Australia among others.
Furious interventions, angry accusations and scornful laughter rang through the Bundestag chamber throughout the morning as the various parliamentary groups argued about a pact that represents the first global attempt to set out parameters for managing migration.
"Millions of people from crisis-stricken regions around the world are being encouraged to get on the road," said AfD leader Alexander Gauland. "Leftist dreamers and globalist elites want to secretly turn our country from a nation state into a settlement area."
Though the motion was swiftly rejected once the debate was over, the AfD considered it a victory to get it on the agenda at all, since the German government is under no obligation to ask for the parliament's approval to ratify the non-legally binding compact.
Read more: What is the Global Migration Compact?
The AfD's main issue
This sense of secrecy proved to be the AfD's main line of attack. "Just a declaration of intention, hardly worth talking about, that's why it wasn't necessary to inform the public in advance," said Gauland, whose party supporters have spent weeks claiming that the fact that the compact has not been a media issue is proof that the "mainstream" press is in league with the political establishment.
In fact, some MPs on Wednesday welcomed the chance to debate the agreement, and some came close to thanking the AfD for the opportunity to explain the compact in public and counter the far-right interpretation that the compact will attract even more migrants to Germany by guaranteeing access to social welfare systems.
Indeed, some members of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had raised the same point earlier in the week, complaining about government secrecy (especially on the part of the Social Democrat-led Foreign Ministry) and the fact that the compact did not distinguish between refugees and economic migrants.
"The motion by the AfD contains many false claims, but still it's good that we have it because it shows publicly and officially what conspiracy theorists and right-wing trolls are blowing through social media in this country," said Joachim Stamp, migration and integration minister in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
"It should have been the task of the government long ago to explain the migration compact factually and publicly. You were silent for too long, and that allowed these conspiracy theories to start in the first place," said Stamp, a member of the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP).
Clearing up misinformation
Gauland did indeed misrepresent some points in the compact, and it was left to the CDU's Stephan Harbarth to point out that nothing in the agreement required a change in German law and that it expressly reaffirms every country's sovereign right to manage its own migration.
Harbarth argued that international forces like migration could only be dealt with at an international level by multilateral agreements. "We have to standardize the norms around the world," he told the house. "When there is talk of creating access to basic welfare and basic health care, then those are minimum standards that have already been implemented in Germany long ago – we have to try and make sure they are introduced in other parts of the world."
For this reason, the point of the compact was not to "encourage" migration, as Gauland claimed, but to limit the necessity for migration elsewhere. "That's why we will vote for this pact, in the interests of Germany, and those who vote against this pact are acting against the national interests of Germany," Harbarth said.
Meanwhile the Left party's Sevim Dagdelen had good grounds to criticize both the AfD and the government: she wondered why she was the only Bundestag member who took the opportunity to attend the UN's debates on the migration compact in New York. "So where were you with your criticism?" she asked the AfD. "And the foundation for this sordid campaign of fear by the AfD was laid by the government with its information policy," she claimed.
But Dagdelen complained that the UN compact was also flawed, because it did not address essential causes of migration: global free trade agreements that favor rich countries, and the arms industry.