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Deutschland Merkel Bundestag Haushaltsdebatte
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

Merkel stays the refugee course

Matt Zuvela
November 25, 2015

German Chancellor Merkel has called for indirect efforts to stem the flow of migrants to Germany. Calls from within her own ranks to set an upper limit on asylum seekers are still not part of her plan.


An audibly hoarse Merkel addressed the German Bundestag on Wednesday in a speech that touched on Germany's policy regarding the continuing stream of refugees to Germany and other European countries. Despite the sore throat, her message regarding Germany's refugee policy remained clear: "we can do it."

She called for the European Union to follow through on plans for 'hotspots' in countries on the bloc's external borders such as Greece where many refugees seeking asylum first enter the EU. The hotspots would enable more efficient processing and further resettlement or deportation of refugees, but Merkel cautioned that a country like Greece needs to know the willingness of its European partners to take on refugees before it implements such measures.

Österreich Flüchtlinge bei Mistlberg an der Grenze zu Deutschland
Many refugees enter Germany in Bavaria from AustriaImage: Getty Images/S. Gallup

"Only when the inner-European solidarity has been secured would [a country like Greece] pursue building these hotspots," Merkel said.

In addition, Merkel said Turkey was a "key partner" for reducing the number of refugees coming to the EU's borders. Noting that Turkey had already taken on 2 million refugees from Syria and other bordering countries, Merkel said helping Turkey deal with the refugee crisis there would provide relief for the European Union.

Merkel is under fire for her "open-door" stance toward refugees, which critics say has led to even more refugees seeking asylum in Europe and Germany in particular.

Günther Oettinger, the EU's Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said in an interview with the Handelsblatt on Wednesday that Germany's asylum laws "work like a magnet on the refugees."

Germany's family minister Manuela Schwesig of Merkel's coalition partner Social Democrats said Germany could not continue to accept refugees at the same rate as in the last few months and that a "breather" would be beneficial.

Setting priority

Over the weekend, the German political divide on the issue was clearly on display at the party conference of Merkel's right-wing coalition partners, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Normally seen as the sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), CSU leader and Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer was openly at odds with Merkel on the stage they shared at the conference, calling for an upper limit to the number of refugees Germany was willing to accept.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls made a similar call for limiting the number of refugees the entire EU accepts in an interview with several European papers on Wednesday.

While Merkel made no specific reference of an upper limit in her speech to the Bundestag on Wednesday, many of her remarks dealt with other, indirect ways that would reduce the number of refugees coming to Germany. This included the hotspots and efforts to help Turkey, but she also highlighted the success of a stricter policy regarding Balkan asylum seekers, who are now more or less sent directly back to the country they came from when they apply for asylum in Germany.

"We expect that those who are denied asylum after the normal civil procedures leave the country so those who need our protection get it," Merkel said.

Later, she said "it makes a difference if we are talking about 30,000 people or 800,000. Then we have to decide: 'who needs our protection, and who must leave our country?'"

In addition to opposition from the CSU, Merkel is being criticized by opposition parties in the Bundestag. Anton Hofreiter of the opposition Greens Party said that while Merkel called for accelerated integration of refugees, she was not backing this with appropriate funding, preferring instead to strictly pursue a balanced budget.

"That's a budget with no courage, no heart, and no plan" Hofreiter said following Merkel's speech, adding that if the German economy was doing as well as Merkel described, it should not be a problem to take a few risks.

"Do something instead of just talking," Hofreiter said.

'United' with France

Merkel also addressed her impending visit to Paris to meet with French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday evening.

Hollande has spent much of his time since the November 13 terror attacks in Paris meeting with world leaders on ways to ramp up joint efforts to destroy the so-called "Islamic State," which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks.

Von der Leyen besucht Soldaten in Mali
Germany currently has far fewer troops in MaliImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"I will address a question with Francois Hollande that affects us both," she said, "the spirit of this discussion will surely be that we act together with our friends, and when additional measures are needed, we won't rule that out from the beginning."

Following last week's terror attack at a hotel in Mali, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced on Wednesday that up to 650 German Bundeswehr soldiers would join a French-led peacekeeping mission in the country.

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