In response to the 2015 refugee crisis, Germany welcomed more than one million refugees and became the country with the fifth highest population of refugees in the world. This article seeks to unpack how Germany, under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, used strategic communications to gain support for such a bold and unusual approach. Building on the work of Claire Yorke, Naomi Head, and other scholars, it argues that emotion and empathy played a transformative role in the German government’s strategic communications. The article reviews literature from a broad range of research on emotion and empathy and considers important contextual factors for Germany in the years leading up to 2015. Through discourse analysis of key texts concerning the 2015 refugee crisis, this article reveals how emotion and expressions of empathy were central to Germany’s strategic communications. The article concludes by evaluating the legacy and impact of this approach.

Keywords—strategic communication, strategic communications, Merkel, Germany, empathy, emotion, refugees


About the Author
Ruth Shepherd has worked in various communications roles in UK government departments and the National Health Service (NHS). She completed a Masters in Strategic Communications at King’s College
London in 2021.