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German finance minister criticizes Austrian refugee cap

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has denounced the "lack of coordination" in Austria's decision to introduce a limit on the number of refugees. Vienna has said the move is a "wake up call" to Europe.

In an interview published by Spiegel Online on Friday, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said he had to "get a bit of air" after hearing that Austria decided to cap the number of migrants it allows into the country without closely consulting with Germany. He said the Austrian move was especially aggravating after German Chancellor Angela Merkel had sought to establish close coordination with Austria on issue of refugees in recent months.

Schäuble said in contrast to the euro crisis, some EU nations seemed to believe that they were not affected by the refugee crisis. "I don't think that's true, but that's the way they see it," he added.

"We know that the abilities of the EU countries [to absorb refugees] is not infinite. In this respect, it makes little sense when we criticize each other now. We have also all accepted that Sweden has introduced border controls, and for decades that was one of the most open countries for immigrants," Schäuble said.

During the interview, which was held in the Swiss town of Davos, where the World Economic Forum is currently being held, the German finance minister also warned against the failure of a European response to the refugee crisis.

If the Schengen system is destroyed, Europe will be dramatically compromised - politically and economically," Schäuble said.

Wolfgang Schäuble in Davos, Switzerland

German Finance Minister Schäuble has warned against the failure of a European solution to the refugee crisis

'We have to protect ourselves'

For his part, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said on Friday that Vienna's limit on asylum seekers served to increase pressure on Europe to resolve the refugee crisis.

"Our national action is, above all, a wake-up call to Brussels," he told German mass-market daily "Bild." "I believe in the long-term there is a European solution. But until it has been reached, we have to protect ourselves," Kurz said.

The Austrian foreign minister argued that while countries such as Austria and Germany continued to accept asylum seekers, other EU nations, which had thus far only been affected as transit countries, would have no incentive to find a solution.

"Only when this issue hits these countries hard, because they have become destination countries, will there be a greater interest in a common European agreement," he said.

Austria itself became a key transit country for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the EU last year, while Germany took in 1.1 million asylum seekers.

ksb/sms (AFP, dpa)

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