Mr. Spahn, you were just in Rwanda for a few days. How did you like it? Is this a country where one would enjoy living? There is something negative in your question. What the country has achieved in the past 30 years must be recognized.

Well, Rwanda is not exactly a flawless democracy. No, but I notice that there is an image of Rwanda in Germany that has little to do with reality. Rwanda is virtually the only stable and secure state in the region. It is a culturally rich and scenic country that is not called the Land of 1000 Hills for nothing.

They are pushing for a third country model in migration policy. Countries like Rwanda should then accept refugees from us. Do you really believe this? We have been unable to control irregular migration for almost two decades. The European asylum system and the European border system are dysfunctional. Almost everyone who somehow reaches Europe can stay. We need more agreements with other countries to ease this migration pressure. If we fail to do this, our European societies will explode.

Jens Spahn, 43, has been a member of the Bundestag for the CDU since 2002. From 2018 to 2021 he was Federal Minister of Health in the Merkel IV cabinet. As vice-chairman of the Union parliamentary group, he is now responsible for economic and energy policy.

But why should Rwanda of all people help? Rwanda is a country with migration experience. Anyone who speaks to government representatives notices this. The president himself was a refugee in the neighboring country for 20 years. We visited a refugee camp where 14,000 refugees from eastern Congo have been living in comparatively good conditions for 20 years. The country can be a partner.

What did your trip reveal? Chancellor Olaf Scholz once said about migration agreements: “The countries are not lining up to be partners.” He is right. Aside from Turkey, Rwanda is the only country that says: We want to be partners. President Paul Kagame took a lot of time for us. I asked him the question: Why do you want to become a partner country?

What was the answer? Because of my own migration experience. But also because he is convinced that he can create a win-win-win situation for all sides. The asylum agreement with the United Kingdom, for example, provides financial support for housing, kindergartens and schools. The Rwandan population also benefits from this.

With the agreement, Rwanda agreed to accept refugees from Great Britain, process their asylum procedures and keep them there. Are such agreements still within the meaning of the Basic Law, according to which politically persecuted people enjoy the right to asylum? There is an obligation of the international community to ensure protection for those being persecuted. But a refugee has no right to choose the destination country for which they flee. The Basic Law states: Anyone who comes from a safe third country is not entitled to asylum. We are surrounded by safe third countries. Nevertheless, the majority of irregular migrants in Europe come to Germany.

European law stipulates that migrants may only be brought to countries with which they have a connection. Correct, that is the so-called connecting element. But European law can be changed. That is the job of politics.

Are you calling for a German initiative to change that? Yes. Germany has not paid enough attention to this so far. I mean this quite self-critically. Representatives of our federal government at the time would have had to travel through the European capitals until an appropriate legal solution was reached. We need such agreements with third countries. It is the only humanitarian solution.

Excuse me? Anyone who wants to end the deaths in the Mediterranean must send a central message to the world: the risk is not worth it, and it’s not worth paying smugglers dearly either. Anyone who sets out on this journey will not arrive in the EU, but in a safe third country. He will be granted protection, will receive an asylum procedure, but he will not stay in Europe.

The churches criticize the new CDU position on asylum policy as inhumane. I can only wonder about that. Perhaps the bishops should ask their fellow bishops in Rwanda, which is very Christian, what the situation there actually is. Do you know what else I learned there?

Enlighten us. From the Rwandan side, the following applies to the agreement with the British: Everyone can stay, regardless of the outcome of the asylum procedure. Everyone. We then asked why they even need the asylum procedure as such. Whereupon we were told: Because British law says so.

Rwanda is not doing this solely out of Christian compassion. No. But again: We have to completely change course in migration policy. My thesis is clearer than ever: Irregular migration may not be the mother of all problems…

… as Horst Seehofer once said … but it is the core of many problems in Germany and Europe. Integration no longer works. Cities and communities are overwhelmed, as are schools. Machete and knife attacks on our streets are increasing. The extreme right is on the rise across Europe on this issue. We must solve the migration crisis. And until now everyone has always told us what isn’t possible.

But that’s not true. The EU has only just decided to carry out asylum procedures at the external borders. This is white ointment. This only applies to a smaller proportion of migrants anyway. And anyone who has not completed the procedure after three months can continue to enter Europe. That doesn’t solve the problem. And you shouldn’t tell people that, the greater the disappointment will be.

But that also applies to your suggestion. They give the impression that the migration crisis can be solved with one proposal. That’s nonsense. No, it’s an important building block. We must leave no stone unturned, time is short. We should therefore try it pragmatically. If anyone has a better suggestion, we should try that too.

How dependent do such agreements make oneself on authoritarian states? If we want to solve the problem of irregular migration, we need partners. Unfortunately, there are many in the world who do not meet the EU standards of democracy and the rule of law. But if we could only cooperate with states that are ready to join the EU immediately, we would have to stop our efforts. The example of the Turkey agreement was the turning point at the time and it shows that you can reduce numbers and control irregular migration.

If you simply ignore concerns about the rule of law. I don’t go through life with rose-colored glasses. However, when it comes to women’s rights and gay rights, Rwanda is one of the most progressive countries in the region. Ms. Faeser has just signed an agreement with Algeria and Morocco and is celebrating for it. These are not flawless democracies either.

Joachim Stamp, the federal government’s repatriation commissioner, was not so enthusiastic about your Rwanda initiative. He says: Public talk damages possible negotiations. Does anyone know whether the federal government is currently negotiating with Rwanda? Not me. It’s true: Negotiate quietly, then introduce yourself – that’s good. But Rwanda expressly wants to talk and negotiate with us. The topic should be a matter for the boss. I expect the responsible ministers to do nothing other than solve the crisis day and night.

Would you abolish the position of commissioner after the federal election? Yes. If you take combating the migration crisis seriously, the post is not necessary. Then the topic must be a matter for the boss every day. The Chancellor, Interior Minister and Foreign Minister are the representatives, no one else.

Many experts say: migration pressure is the new normal because of the many wars and crises. We can protect our borders, we just have to want to. When people pretended in 2015 that this wasn’t possible, I called it a kind of state failure. We want to be an open country. But we want to accept people in an orderly manner via quotas. This is humane, unlike the law of the strongest that currently applies.

Angela Merkel has long shaped the CDU’s refugee policy, but now her party’s program is distancing itself from her. Do you sometimes miss Merkel as a leading figure in the party? She is accessible to all of us, and that’s all good. But the country lacks a chancellor to lead.

In your opinion, Merkel has led? Yes, just look at Europe. Under Merkel, Germany’s leadership role in the EU Council was clear. Olaf Scholz sits alone in the council and mumbles to himself. There is at most French leadership.

Someone like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would see it differently. He regularly praises the German leadership. From what I hear, Germany is rather passive on the council. And by the way: When Angela Merkel was Chancellor, we had economic growth. When social democrats govern, there is a recession.

Others say: Only the Social Democrats are making real reforms. The 2010 Agenda, for example. If there was just a spark of Gerhard Schröder from 2004 in Olaf Scholz, a lot would have been achieved. But he looks more like his own briefcase, which he now introduces to us on TikTok, than a political leader. Citizens’ money was the final building block for the full implementation of the agenda reforms. Scholz is handling Schröder’s agenda.

You competed against Friedrich Merz twice, once alone, once in a team with Armin Laschet. Why is he now suddenly the right person for the CDU? Friedrich Merz has rebuilt the CDU. We could have argued about the election defeat for two years, but we didn’t. The election of Friedrich Merz has reconciled the leadership and the base. He is a strong opposition leader. And he will lead us back into government. Everyone must now feel that we want to win the election. We want to end this traffic light spectacle.

So the candidacy for chancellor has been clarified? Markus Söder and Friedrich Merz will make a proposal. But of course a recently re-elected CDU leader is the favorite. That’s obvious.

There is a risk for the federal CDU in Thuringia. Forming a government is likely to be just as difficult as in 2020. Some Christian Democrats are already calling for a rapprochement with Bodo Ramelow’s Left Party. Where do you stand? We want a middle-class majority in Thuringia. Mario Voigt plays for victory and doesn’t let himself be deterred. I think that’s very good. And as far as the Left Party is concerned: Bodo Ramelow is history. He can still enjoy his last months as Prime Minister. There is a duel between Mario Voigt and Björn Höcke. And we win it.