“This is not my europe”

Norbert Blum camped out in the Idomeni camp © Kay Nietfeld

Trying to cheer up a refugee child © Kay Nietfeld

Blue igloo tent, black anorak, blue sleeping bag. Norbert Blum, TV images show, spent a night in Idomeni refugee camp. The 80-year-old demonstrates solidarity with the refugees.

He still wants to make a difference. And he is angry. Although Norbert Blum retired from the Bundestag in 2002, the 80-year-old CDU politician continues to get involved. This weekend, the former federal labor minister spent a rainy night in a tent in the Greek refugee camp of Idomeni.

"Attack on humanity"

In solidarity with the more than 10.000 refugees who live there in mud and cold because Europe refuses them entry. And as a sign against the indifference of European politicians who close the borders and look the other way, the CDU politician inveighs. "What kind of Europe is this??" Already after his arrival on Saturday, Blum had condemned the conditions in Idomeni as an "attack on humanity". This is not his Europe.

Several times in recent months, Blum, who is considered the "social conscience of the CDU," has advocated a hospitable welcome for refugees. Together with Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne and other prominent figures, he was one of the signatories of a "Rhenish Message" warning against a division of society after the New Year's Eve events in Cologne: sexual violence and crime must not be tolerated. At the same time, Germany must remain an open country that welcomes people in need.

CDU should reflect on the "C", they said

In the fall, Blum – "although I was never in danger of becoming a member of the Angela Merkel fan club" – defended the chancellor's refugee policy. "I am proud of Angela Merkel," he wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper. He appealed to his party to remember its Christian roots, reminding them of the parable of the Good Samaritan. "For the CDU, the refugee question is – whether intentionally or not – its question of conscience: What do you think about the C in the party name??"

Blum also intervenes again and again as a book author. These days, his title "Outcry. Against the merciless money society" on the market. In it he castigates the worst excesses of the capitalist economy. Greed for money leads to increasing poverty elsewhere and drives people worldwide into homelessness, violence and fanaticism, the CDU politician draws a connection between Western exports, the arms trade and the refugee crisis.

In spring 2015, Blum traveled to Qatar, disguised as a tourist, to denounce inhumane working conditions of guest workers at the World Cup stadiums. "I wish that Mr. Blatter would live here for a fortnight. Then perhaps he will no longer award world championships to countries where such conditions prevail," he said afterwards.

Student with Joseph Ratzinger

Blum is influenced by the Catholic social teaching of one Oswald von Nell-Breuning (1890-1991). In the 1960s, the trained toolmaker studied philosophy, German language and literature, history and theology – among others with Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.

For more than 30 years, the grandfather of six was a member of the Bundestag, and for 16 years he was Minister of Labor and Social Affairs in Kohl's government.

As minister, Blum pushed through a health reform and two major pension reforms. But probably most associated with his name is the introduction of long-term care insurance in 1995. He insisted early on that there is also a life outside politics: "Politicians who get up with politics, organize lunch as a working lunch, and dream politically at night, I think are dangerous." Nevertheless, he can't resist getting involved.

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