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Refugee crisis: EU's Dombrovskis backs fuel tax idea

A fuel tax to help Europe absorb refugees has again been floated, this time by Valdis Dombrovskis, a top EU official. Criticism flowed last week after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble first aired the idea.

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told the German newsmagazine "Der Spiegel" Saturday that he agreed with Schäuble that fresh ideas, such as a fuel tax, were needed to deal with refugee crisis gripping Europe since September.

"A fuel tax, at a national or European level, could be a possible source of financing, especially if you take into account that petrol (gasoline) prices are at a historical low," Dombrovskis said.

His remarks coincided with a call by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that Europe's Schengen zone comprising open internal borders be "defended."

Simultaneously, German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq would have to go home once conflicts ended.

A record 1.1 million migrants arrived in Germany last year, leaving Merkel facing

increasingly strident rhetoric from critics

demanding that she reverse her "we can cope" policy.

Merkel told conservatives in her northern home state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania that 70 percent of the refugees who in the 1990s fled former Yugoslavia had since returned to their home regions in the Balkans.

Deutschland Wolfgang Schäuble Finanzminister

Schäuble's fuel tax idea was rebuffed in Germany

Kite flying by Schäuble?

The fuel surcharge idea was first aired by Schäuble, a veteran Merkel ally sometimes seen as her rival, in a newspaper interview on January 16.

Conservative rejection came loudest from Julia Klöckner, one of five deputy chairpersons in the executive of Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).

Klöckner is contesting a regional election in Rhineland-Palatinate state on March 13, where her CDU opposition team aims to wrest power from a Social Democrat (SPD) -led coalition in the Mainz assembly.

In his interview with the Munich-based "Süddeutsche Zeitung" newspaper, Schäuble had said Europe must secure the outer border of its passport-free Schengen zone, launched in 1985 and now spanning 26 nations.

If funding from national and EU budgets for outer border measures proved to be insufficient, then Europe could "for example, agree that we levy a surcharge on every liter of petrol at a certain level," he told the paper at the time.

Schäuble did not say how much.

Dombrovskis on Saturday said he agreed with Schäuble that securing the EU's outer border would be cost-intensive.

The EU agency created in 2004 to secure the Schengen fringe says the external frontier now extends along almost 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) of land borders and some 44,000 kilometers (27,300) of external sea borders.

Schengen comprises 26 countries, including four non-EU states, such as Switzerland and Norway.

Keep Europe open, demands Renzi

Retention of the Schengen zone was demanded on Saturday by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Deutschland Italien Treffen Merkel mit Renzi in Berlin

Europe must retain its passport-free zone, Renzi insists

"We say with force, decisiveness and courage that those who want to destroy Schengen want to destroy Europe. And, we will not allow them to," he said.

Renzi, speaking a day

after consultations with Merkel,

made his remarks laying flowers on the Italian island of Ventotene in memory of two prisoners who during World War Two wrote a manifesto calling for European unification.

Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi were imprisoned on Ventotene between 1927 and 1943 by Italy's then fascist government under dictator Benito Mussolini.

Since late 2015, six out of the 26 Schengen nations have re-established provisional border controls, but without closing frontiers altogether.

Earlier this week, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni called for an urgent meeting of founding EU nations to ensure that Europe did not "become a grey, abstract debate on details" compared to a "great dream, with the strength to move borders and break down prison walls" espoused by Spinelli and Rossi.

ipj/gsw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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