From Trump to Merkel: How the world is divided between fear and openness

But the biggest problem with territorialism is not polarisation, it is that the concept is deeply flawed. Territorialists suggest that people can have their cake and eat it: disrupt globalisation and stay rich, minimise investment in international affairs and alliances and remain safe and free. They take the huge gains in prosperity, security and freedom of the last decades for granted. They fail to understand that those gains depend on massive investments of nation states in international order, and that globalisation is based on open societies and increasingly easy cross-border flows of goods, people and information. In other words, if territorialism wins, globalisation is under threat.

Merkel thinks we are indeed at a crossroads; the refugee crisis is part of a larger challenge that she describes as “our rendezvous with globalisation”. For her, the key challenge is how to keep globalisation afloat in spite of increasing geopolitical conflicts and tensions. Merkel is one of the few western leaders who has lived in a country that was unfree, poor and isolated from the west by a wall and fences secured by mines. She was 35 years old when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. She knows what it means to be shut off from global flows, locked in a country by an insurmountable border. For Merkel, globalisation equals progress. Open spaces and increased interaction across borders are a good thing, as they unleash opportunity and secure freedom and prosperity at home. Globalisation is challenging, but on balance the gains are much bigger than the risks. Also, in a world of large economic regions such as the US and China, the space in which German politics operates cannot be limited to the German territory any more.

Open borders in Europe are “deeply in our interest”, she argues; no other country gains from those achievements “more than us” and needs them more “because of our geographical location”. But responsibilty goes beyond the shared European space: “In an open world we also have to take on more responsibility for what happens outside our European borders.” Open borders in Europe are under threat. The refugee crisis, driven by the war in Syria, is testing the Schengen system that was set up in 1995. It is unclear whether the system is going to survive this stress test and what a revival of borders means for the EU.