For a while now, the German government has been at a loss for words when it comes to dealing with record numbers of refugees. Now, it appears to be making haste, and has said new laws may be ready within two months.
Following a special asylum policy meeting of the German parliament's interior committee on Wednesday, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that time was of the essence, and that progress was being made.
"Our plan is ambitious," said the veteran politician known as one of Merkel's closest allies, adding that "there is no time to lose - we need decisions fast."
According to projections made by de Maiziere's ministry, there will be over four times more refugees showing up at Germany's door this year than in 2014 (incidentally also a record year), with the forecast placed tentatively at around 800,000 people.
Although de Maiziere offered no concrete information on the pledged laws, he said they would concern three core areas: the creation of more housing space for asylum applicants; catalyzing the process of deporting applicants deemed unfit for asylum; and offering more money to German states and municipalities tasked with accommodating refugees.
Of the essence…
With hundreds of new applicants arriving daily in Germany, refugee centers and initial reception facilities are already woefully overfilled.
An attempt to create more such facilities in the country has also led to a surge in right-wing attacks, leading domestic figures in Germany have suggested.
Hans-Georg Maassen, head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, warned on Wednesday that the situation had stimulated a rise of right-wing extremism in Germany. Speaking to the weekly Stern magazine, he bemoaned "a connection between the number of attacks [on refugee reception facilities] and the number of people in the NPD," referring to the overtly right-wing National Democratic Party.
In need of streamlining, money
Around 60 percent of the 202,834 applicants in Germany in 2014 were granted asylum. The other 40 percent, however, weren't sent back home immediately, sometimes spending months in refugee centers during which the German government paid them a monthly stipend of 143 euros (around $160) in addition to providing housing and food.
In a bid to circumvent those costs, de Maiziere wants to create laws that will allow the German government to deport those applicants with little chance of attaining asylum almost immediately. These are generally applicants from countries deemed "safe" by the German government. De Maiziere also wants to add a number of eastern European countries to that "safe list." For the latter to happen, however, a change to Germany's constitution, the Grundgesetz, would have to be made.
Perhaps the most heated item on the agenda at the special meeting on Wednesday was that of money, in particular, how much Berlin should allocate to the 16 federal states scrambling to cope with the record numbers of asylum seekers.
Interior committee head Wolfgang Bosbach, a mainstay in Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Party (CDU), said an "immense sum" of money would have to mobilized, and that "one or two billion euros certainly wouldn't cover it."
Ahead of the meeting, German Labor Minister Andrea Nahles, of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), said up to 3.3 billion euros would be needed from the federal government to properly handle the situation in Germany's states.
Refugee reception facilities are already filled well beyond capacity, and more applicants are on their way
What about Brussels?
Apart from the monetary situation, Bosbach also said what was lacking in the response to the refugee crisis was cooperation throughout Europe. Germany has taken in the lion's share of asylum applicants in Europe, at present around 40 percent of those who have applied in the EU this year.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday's meeting to national radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, he said that while leaders across the continent use the phrase "European solidarity" in speeches, the concept hasn't been put into practice "in every-day life for quite some time."
Bosbach was clearly alluding to the situation in Budapest, where migrants were allowed to freely board trains from Austria and Germany on Monday - in violation of the Dublin Regulation, which says all asylum seekers must be processed in the first EU nation they arrive in - before being removed from Budapest's Keleti train station the next day.
Whoever wants to profit from the structural and economic benefits of EU membership must also help take on their share of refugees, Bosbach said.
glb/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)