Rhetorics of asylum : a study on the public debate about asylum policy in Germany during the era of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, 1982-94

  • Constantin Christoph Eckner

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis provides the first thorough analysis of the so-called “asylum debate” (Asyldebatte) in Germany in the 1980s and early 1990s. The debate revolved around the subject of asylum policy and, in a broader sense, immigration into Germany in general. The study is bookended by two key events: the inauguration of Helmut Kohl as West Germany’s new Chancellor in 1982 and the 1993 decision by the Bundes1tag and Bundesrat to tighten the constitutional right to asylum through an amendment of Article 16 of the German Grundgesetz. This decision marked the first time in Germany’s post-war history that one of the 19 fundamental rights in the Grundgesetz was limited in its scope.

What exactly caused the asylum debate? What stoked its heated nature? And what factors led to the decision for a constitutional amendment? In answering these questions, this thesis offers a detailed study of the arguments and discursive strategies of prominent actors involved in the debate, including politicians and parties on the federal and local level, intellectuals, scholars, and journalists. It uses newspaper articles and editorials, the minutes of political meetings, electoral propaganda, party pamphlets, and a range of other sources to reconstruct how these actors pushed their respective agendas.

This thesis should be understood as a contribution to the history of migration in Germany and Europe and to the late modern political history of Germany. It proves how the debate about asylum policy was impacted by a fundamental disagreement among political actors over whether Germany was in fact a “country of immigration” (Einwanderungsland) and whether the immigration of refugees would have irreversible consequences for the social fabric and economic prospects of the Federal Republic.
Date of Award1 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorRiccardo Bavaj (Supervisor)


  • Asylum
  • Asylum policy
  • Refugees
  • Germany
  • West Germany
  • Federal Republic of Germany
  • Helmut Kohl

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 9th September 2026

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