The German government is counting on the EU to resolve the refugee crisis. But what will happen if member states continue to stonewall? Berlin is already preparing to deport asylum seekers.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is pretty much out in the rain: For months now, thousands of refugees have been finding their way across the Mediterranean and along the Balkan route to reach Germany each day - and for months, alongside the pursuit of diplomatic solutions for Syria, the chancellor has been adamant about finding a European solution to the crisis: Hotspots, better security of the EU's external borders and binding quotas for the distribution of refugees throughout the Union. Not much has happened.
At the next EU summit on February 18, European government leaders will struggle to find such a solution. Many predict that chances of success are slim: Above all, the Eastern Europeans are against the quotas envisaged by Chancellor Merkel, and the construction of hotspots is slow. Angela Merkel has already announced that she may be forced to reassess her refugee policies after the summit.
Alternatives are already being weighed in Berlin: Should the EU summit fail to provide a breakthrough, Germany reserves the right to "undertake clear measures, in order to show EU partners that the refugees are not simply a German problem," as Roderich Kiesewetter said in an interview with DW.
Kiesewetter: Border closings possible
Germany, said the Christian Democratic (CDU) foreign policy expert, could temporarily close its borders to refugees in agreement with Austria and other neighboring countries. If Germany were to close its borders, then refugee traffic would back up along the Balkan route - and, hopefully, force European partners to act.
However, it would have to be determined that, "refugees stuck along the Balkan route would be cared for," says Kiesewetter. Germany originally opened its borders last summer after masses of refugees became stranded along the Balkan route. Since then, thousands of asylum seekers have arrived in Germany every day.
In order to reduce refugee numbers, the government is now determined to become more stringent about deportations: On a visit to Kabul, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière explained that Afghans with no chance of receiving asylum would be more vigorously repatriated to Afghanistan.
Afghans, the CDU politician said, should return home voluntarily to those parts of the country that are safe. Returnees might also be eligible to receive financial assistance to build new lives for themselves.
Merkel herself chimed in over the weekend: "We expect that, when there is once again peace in Syria, and when IS has been defeated in Iraq, that you will also ( … ) return to your homes," she explained at the CDU's state party conference in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.
At the same time, according to Chancellory Minister Peter Altmaier, the EU is negotiating with Turkey and other countries about the return of refugees convicted of crimes. The move is designed to allow delinquent refugees to be deported to third states, if a return to their home country is not possible.
That is the case when people face torture or the death penalty upon return. Countries of origin often also refuse to take back refugees when they no longer posses valid passports.
German government officials say that such a readmission agreement with Turkey could go into effect as early as this summer.
Altmaier spoke of an "unmistakable signal," that would make clear that, "it is not worth heading to Germany if you are an Algerian, Moroccan, or Tunisian." The coalition wants to declare all three states "safe countries of origin," so that asylum procedures and deportations can be dealt with more swiftly and easily.
One suggestion was also heard out of the Labor Ministry: In a newspaper article that appeared on Monday, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Andrea Nahles (SPD) threatened to cut social benefits to those refugees who were not willing to integrate.
Summing up his boss' policies, Merkel's press secretary, Steffen Seibert, said, "The government is working very hard to greatly reduce the number of refugees." In the coming days it should become clear what means they plan on using to do so: The EU summit is less than three weeks away.