Refugee Overflow

Amid Tension, Merkel Seeks E.U. Summit

refugees at gate-tamas soki-dpa
Migrants gathered on Tuesday at a closed railroad crossing between Hungary and Serbia. 
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    An E.U. summit might offer a chance to ease tensions among member states after a series of ministerial meetings failed to resolve deep disagreements over the refugee crisis.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germany and Austria ask E.U. Council President Donald Tusk to convene a special summit next week.
    • Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to agree financial support for the refugees’ countries of origin and to agree on “hotspots.”
    • Refugees continue to be allowed into Germany despite the border controls.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Austrian counterpart, Werner Faymann, on Tuesday called E.U. Council President Donald Tusk to organize a special summit next week, as rifts deepened among the 28-nation bloc over the refugee crisis.

Ms. Merkel said E.U. leaders should discuss providing financial support in the refugees’ countries of origin and in neighboring states. She also wants leaders to agree on registration centers in E.U. nations such as Greece and Italy, where most of the refugees from war-torn countries Syria and Iraq are arriving.

The idea is for the so-called hotspots to register people before sending them on to other member states if they have a chance of asylum.

Mr. Faymann, who held talks with Ms. Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday, warned of a “humanitarian disaster” and said countries refusing to accept refugees should receive less money from E.U. budgets. The German interior minister, Thomas de Maiziѐre, echoed that call after European ministers failed on Monday to break a deadlock over sharing responsibility for accepting some of the hundreds of thousands who have sought asylum in Europe.

“So I think we must talk about ways of exerting pressure.”

Thomas de Maiziѐre,, German Interior Minister

“So I think we must talk about ways of exerting pressure,” Mr. de Maiziѐre told German television, adding that some of the countries opposing quotas were receiving E.U. structural funds to help them catch up with wealthier areas of the bloc.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia, which are among countries refusing to take in more refugees, rejected the suggestion on Tuesday. Ms. Merkel tried to ease tensions by sounding conciliatory. “I think we need to establish a European spirit again … I don’t think threats are the right way to achieve agreement,” she said on German television.

By contrast, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, under fire for his country’s rough treatment of asylum-seekers on the border with Serbia on their way north, was sounding as uncompromising as ever. “There will be no more refugee camps in Hungary in future,” he said, as Hungarian authorities tried to ferry as many refugees to Austria as possible on Monday night. On Tuesday, some 6,000 arrived in the Austrian town of Nickelsdorf where a motorway crosses into Austria from Hungary .

Ms. Merkel rejected criticism of her decision late last month to stop enforcing European Union rules under which refugees can only apply for asylum in the first member state they enter, and to allow refugees stranded in Hungary to seek asylum in Germany.

Refugee waving-Balazs Mohai-dpa
The mood is shifting, as migrants reach blocked border crossings. Source: Balazs Mohai/DPA

 

“If we now start having to apologise for showing a friendly face in emergency situations, this isn’t my country,” she told a joint news conference with Mr. Faymann.

Overwhelmed by the resulting influx of refugees, Germany temporarily reimposed border controls at the weekend, causing Austria and other countries to do the same and casting doubt on the Schengen system of passport-free travel in the European Union. Police said more than 3,800 asylum seekers reached Germany on Monday despite new controls at the border with Austria.

On top of the tensions within the European Union, Ms. Merkel is under growing pressure from her Christian Democratic Union party to take a tougher line in the crisis, with members urging her not to give in to pressure from other E.U. countries to reopen the border for everyone.

She met the state premiers of Germany’s 16 regional states on Tuesday evening to discuss their calls for more money from the central government in addition to the €3 billion, or $3.38 billion, already pledged. Their demands will likely be met: Deputy Chancellor and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he was in favor of greater financial support for the regions.

But no decisions are expected to be taken ahead of the next meeting scheduled for September 24. The priority now was to develop a plan for handling the refugee numbers and to avoid the impression of a chaotic zigzag approach to the crisis, government sources said.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble appears concerned about the crisis possibly thwarting his plan for a balanced budget in 2016.

If the government makes concessions on top of the €3 billion pledged last week, it may fail to meet its budget target, said finance experts in the ruling coalition. As a result, the finance ministry is considering imposing €500-million spending cuts in all ministries during budget talks currently underway.

Jens Weidmann, president of the German central bank, the Bundesbank, said the flow of migrants to Germany offers opportunities, if these people can be permanently integrated into society and the labor market. “Due to demographic changes, Germany needs additional labor to maintain its prosperity,” he said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.


Video: Hungary Erects Razor-Wire Fence to Shut Down Flow of Refugees.

Jan Hildebrand, Till Hoppe and Donata Riedel cover policy in Berlin. Hans-Peter Siebenhaar is Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Vienna. To contact the authors: hildebrand@handelsblatt.com, hoppe@handelsblatt.com, riedel@handelsblatt.com and siebenhaar@handelsblatt.com

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