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Refugee coordinator Peter Altmaier: 'Germany is not the problem'

In an interview with DW, Chancellor Merkel's Chief of Staff and refugee coordinator, Peter Altmaier, defended Germany's handling of the refugee influx and Berlin's leadership role in the EU.

Altmaier said Europe was in good shape and able to overcome the crisis through burden-sharing among the European partners, adding: "But we are not waiting until the last member of the EU has made up its mind."

In a rebuff to the current President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who has accused Germany of "political coercion" regarding the refugee situation, Altmaier insisted: "Germany is part of the solution, not the problem."

The conservative politician told host Tim Sebastian he rejected the idea that migration could be contained by closing borders: "There are tens of thousands of refugees moving across six or seven countries. (…) Would you think you could stop these people? Hungary was unable to stop them. No other country in Europe was able to stop them."

Returning refugees was not an option either, Altmaier said: "If we had tried to return the refugees, we would have risked the destabilization of Europe."

Altmaier made it clear that in his opinion there was no alternative to integration. "Real issues will be solved one after the other," he said, admitting that the results were "not yet clear to everybody." When Sebastian asked Altmaier whether he preferred integration to multiculturalism, the Chancellery Chief answered: "Yes."

Altmaier defended Germany's record on integration: "When you look at the large population of immigrants which arrived in Germany over the last 30, 40 years, most of them have been integrated successfully."

With reference to the other challenges facing the EU, such as the sovereign debt crisis or the Ukrainian crisis, Altmaier said he was optimistic about the future: "Europe today is in a better shape than ten years ago."

On the influx of refugees to the EU, he said: "Europe has an option to overcome the refugee crisis and this option is burden-sharing amongst European countries." He later added: "But we are not waiting until the last member of the EU has made up its mind."

Peter Altmaier has been Chancellery Chief since December 2013, after serving as environment minister. In October 2015, he was put in charge of coordinating the German refugee influx. The task was shifted from the interior ministry to Merkel's chancellery.

Altmaier was born in 1958 in Ensdorf, Saarland, and studied law in Saarbrücken. He worked at the European Commission for four years before becoming a member of the Bundestag for the first time in 1994.

The full interview with Tim Sebastian will air on DW's "Conflict Zone" on Wednesday, December 9, at 17.30 UTC.

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Christoph Jumpelt

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