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Germany

Angela Merkel: On migrants EU needs to 'do its homework'

In her annual summer press conference, the German chancellor had critical words for the European Union and Turkey. But with Germany heading to the polls in 26 days, she was careful not to say anything controversial.

As the incumbent, conservative Angela Merkel has the advantage of getting additional press coverage when she exercises the duties of her office, for instance, by holding her traditional summer press conference. As she fielded reporters' questions on Tuesday in Berlin, the lines between Merkel the chancellor and Merkel the candidate weren't always clearly demarcated.

Merkel began by addressing the topic that is perhaps her Achilles' heel, migration. She said that she had met with the leaders of France, Italy, Spain and several North African states to talk about how they could prevent human trafficking and stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.

She added that the leaders had agreed upon a "common fight against the Mediterranean route" along the lines of the pact to control migration between the European Union and Turkey. But she didn't provide any specifics.

Merkel and Macron

Merkel said she had consulted with other leaders about North African migrants

When asked whether in her heart of hearts she was a chancellor who welcomed refugees or sought to block the flow of migrants to Europe, Merkel said that the wave of refugees in 2015 was a humanitarian "exception" that had required immediate action, and not the basis of a long-term strategy. And she criticized Germany's EU partners for not pulling their weight.

"Europe hasn't done its homework," Merkel said. "We still don't have a fair system of distribution [of refugees]. We still have a lot to do in this regard. We have to combat the reasons for people fleeing. We need agreements with various African countries. This proceeds from the same spirit as our emergency humanitarian assistance."

Merkel added that Germany could not seal itself off and would have to engage with the economic problems in other countries, calling the migrant issue a "global problem."

Stern words on Turkey

On the subject of Germany's worsening relations with Turkey, Merkel brought up the German citizens Berlin feels are being unfairly detained in the country. The chancellor again called for their release and said that it was "unfortunately necessary" to take a number of measures in response, including issuing warnings to people traveling to Turkey.

Merkel and Erdogan

Merkel sees little chance for a reconciliation with Erdogan

Merkel's rival for the chancellorship, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, has criticized her for not taking a hard enough line with Turkey and its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. So she was keen to offer some stern words on the subject.

"We want better relations but that goes hand in hand with respect for the rule of law, and we don't see that in Turkey at the moment," Merkel said. "That also has an effect on our economic relations."

When specifically asked whether the government had any plans on how to improve relations with Erdogan, Merkel's response was curt.

"We'll keep trying," she said. "But Turkey is headed in the wrong direction where the rule of law is concerned."

Like Bayern Munich

Merkel was questioned on everything from the hypothetical possibility of Russia annexing the Baltic states to financial aid for Greece to accusations made by Schulz that she was "aloof" and had refused to engage with him in open debate on the issues. But any reporters hoping that the chancellor would give them material for spectacular headlines went home disappointed.

A case in point was another subject on which she's been deemed vulnerable: the Dieselgate scandal and increasing calls for Germany to set a date to phase out some types of combustion engines. Merkel dealt with queries on this topic in her usual low-key manner, saying that she would be meeting with local leaders of places in Germany with high levels of particulate matter in the air. But she also made sure to point out that she would not support a prohibition on driving diesel cars - something that could alienate voters who own diesel vehicles.

Merkel with reporters

Merkel packed out her signature hand gesture for journalists

The most emotional moment came when Merkel was asked to comment upon right-wing populist leader Alexander Gauland's call for the government's Social Democratic integration commissioner to be "disposed of" in Turkey. The chancellor said that Gauland's remarks were unequivocally "racist."

"This is absolutely unacceptable," Merkel said. "I see this as part of a strategy. Such remarks reveal the true ideological motivations of such people."

Otherwise, watching the chancellor efficiently dealing with the journalists' questions was a bit like watching Bayern Munich control the ball while running out a match with a 3-0 lead. At one point, Merkel began an answer with the phrase "Next year I intend to" before catching herself and adding the qualification: "If I'm given the chance to."

It was a moment that spoke volumes about an election in which Merkel's conservatives maintain a commanding lead in public opinion polls, and which has been criticized for being tedious and devoid of highlights. Merkel's press conference on Tuesday did absolutely nothing to change the lack of excitement. And that, of course, suits Angela Merkel just fine.

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