Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized for a slow initial response to the Syrian refugee crisis, said Thursday she would take greater action to contain and manage the crisis in Europe, including meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the government of Iran, and providing more money to German cities and municipalities.
“Sixty million refugees – it only takes this one number to understand that we are not facing a German, not a European, but a global challenge,” Ms. Merkel said to a session of the Bundestag, adding that Europe “can only succeed together with our trans-Atlantic partner, the United States, as well as Russia and the states of the region of the Middle and Far East.”
Ms. Merkel made her remarks hours after reaching an agreement with E.U. leaders to pledge at least €1 billion ($1.12 billion) to help house and care for Syrian refugees in the Middle East as “a signal of unity to make progress.” The E.U. money is to be funneled through United Nations agencies.
But some critics argued her definition of progress still needs to be defined.
Gauri van Gulik, the deputy Europe director for Amnesty International, said the European financing package was insufficient.
“Money great, but Europe still pretending #refugeecrisis not here,” Ms. van Gulik wrote on Twitter. “Keeping people out is not a strategy.”
The European summit, critics say, has done little except toss €1 billion at a multi-billion-euro crisis and force through mechanisms for taking in 120,000 refugees from Italy and Greece.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees also criticized the European Union for not doing enough to accept refugees.
“UNHCR is disappointed that, notwithstanding relocation, no further measures have been proposed to create more legal pathways for refugees to reach safety in Europe,” the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement. “UNHCR urges a substantial and rapid increase in legal opportunities for refugees to access the EU, including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification, private sponsorship, and humanitarian and student visas.”
Sarah Wagenknecht, deputy floor leader of the Left Party, was also disappointed with the Brussel results. “What is now touted as a great result of yesterday’s summit — that we’ll provide €1 billion in contributions — is less than a drop in the bucket, that is ridiculous,” she told parliamentarians after Ms. Merkel’s speech.
Even Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union party and its sister party, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, told parliamentarians that “maybe the West should have started talking to Assad earlier.”
The talks in Brussels, which went into the early hours of Thursday morning, pitted the governments of central Europe, largely opposed to taking refugees, against Germany and France after the two countries on Tuesday imposed refugee quotas on the 28-nation bloc.
The talks pitted the governments of central Europe against Germany and France after the two countries on Tuesday had forced imposed refugee quotas on the east.
Calls for European security forces to help control Greek borders – one of the main entry points to the European Union from the Middle East – also fell on deaf ears.
Hoping to end the bitter internal squabbling over the E.U.’s biggest crisis in decades, Ms. Merkel said all participants in Brussels, “and I really mean all the participants, acknowledged the all-European dimension of the refugee crisis” and the need to move together on finding a solution.
Some German political observers agree.
“Money is not the solution,” Karl Brenke from the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin, told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “What is urgently needed is a common E.U. refugee policy.”
Ms. Merkel noted that Europe will only be able to secure its external borders “together with Turkey, which shares an external border with the European Union.” She said Donald Tusk of Poland, the president of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, planned to meet with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 5.
The chancellor signaled her willingness to speak with the president of Syria, Bashir al-Assad, whose civil war is the main reason for the surge of refugees in Europe. “We have to speak with many players, including Assad, but others as well,” she said in Brussels.
Speaking ahead of talks this afternoon with German state premiers on the refugee crisis, Ms. Merkel said the federal and state governments had “agreed on improvements” in dealing with the flood of refugees pouring into the country, estimated to be between 800,000 and 1 million.
“Today we will, at least that’s what I hope, adopt more necessary resolutions, especially with regard to financial support for states and municipalities by the federal government,” she said.
Many believe she will make a multi-billion-euro concession to keep the political peace at a volatile moment in Germany’s commitment to refugees.
A new estimate puts the cost for new arrivals this year at €10 billion ($11.2 billion) — which could jeopardize the country’s coveted balanced budget.
“It’s unfair that the federal government currently hardly shares the financial burden,” Paul Jäger, the interior minister of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, said in a radio interview with a German public broadcaster. “NRW alone will spend €1.7 billion in the next fiscal year. This shows that what the federal government has provided so far is just a drop in the ocean.”
Many states and municipalities are hoping that Thursday’s summit will produce a binding mechanism to distribute federal funds on a per-refugee basis.