Werner Henning likes to speak in metaphors to express how he sees himself and things. For example, there is the comparison with the card game Schafkopf. When Berlin dictates something, he, the district administrator from the Thuringian district of Eichsfeld, implements everything without making a fuss. Then the rule applies: the top outweighs the bottom. But he still expresses criticism without naming the traffic light coalition. “I am a child of the GDR,” says Henning. “We used to have a saying: Everyone wants to govern and no one wants to push the wheelbarrow. Today the number of people who want to push the wheelbarrow is manageable again. But the number of people who know better is large.”

The challenge of finding accommodation for the many asylum seekers gives him sleepless nights. There is a lot of talk in Berlin, but integration policy is actually a question of management. “We’re all spinning our wheels here,” says Henning, moving on to the third metaphor: “I’m wondering, what else can you do here with your short shirt?”

Last year, more asylum applications were submitted in Germany than ever before. In addition, in the past two years there have been hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have not applied for asylum but who also have to be integrated. District Administrator Henning feels directly what are just numbers on paper.

In order to counteract the migration pressure, the federal government has recently decided to tighten some regulations. Since there is no one solution, the idea is that many small solutions should help. Controls have been introduced at the borders with Poland, the Czech Republic and Switzerland, and longer exit detention for rejected asylum seekers and more powers for the police are intended to make deportations easier. In addition, asylum procedures at the EU's external border were decided in Brussels. The tone has also changed. While Angela Merkel was criticized by some for her “We can do it” message, her successor, Chancellor Olaf Scholz, is sending a different signal to the world: “We finally have to deport people on a large scale.”

“I don’t want any unsightly pictures of this landscape”

Another small solution in asylum policy should be the nationwide introduction of a payment card for asylum seekers in order to prevent migrants from transferring money to their homeland or to their smugglers. And to eliminate a suspected pull factor. Some say that more asylum seekers go to Germany than to other countries because the transfer payments are higher here. But can a payment card deliver what its proponents hope it will? Initial evidence suggests: a little. But it depends.

Werner Henning, district administrator for 30 years, was one of the first to introduce a card for asylum seekers. But the 67-year-old CDU politician first has to correct something in an interview with the FAZ. He didn't introduce a payment card, but rather a benefit-in-kind card.

Martina Schweinsburg (CDU), district administrator in the Greiz district and Werner Henning (CDU), district administrator in the Eichsfeld district

Martina Schweinsburg (CDU), district administrator in the Greiz district and Werner Henning (CDU), district administrator in the Eichsfeld district

Image: dpa

The difference is in the details. Berlin wants to combat the smuggling business with the payment card. As district administrator, he wants to enable integration with his benefits-in-kind card. Anyone who does not work and has been in the country for less than 18 months will now receive a card in Eichsfeld that covers 55 percent of the benefits. The remaining 45 percent is paid out in cash. Those who went to work at least a little would still get everything in cash. “When you work, you get to know colleagues and get to know the manager. Anyone who looks for work integrates themselves,” says Henning about his incentive model.