German government plays down hopes of refugee crisis breakthrough


Chancellor Angela Merkel has called coalition party leaders to an emergency meeting on Sunday to draw up an action plan to deal with the refugee crisis as thousands of asylum seekers cross the border into Germany each day.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has called coalition party leaders to an emergency meeting on Sunday to draw up an action plan to deal with the refugee crisis as thousands of asylum seekers cross the border into Germany each day.

Berlin (dpa) – Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government ruled out on Thursday an early end to the nation’s refugee crisis ahead of an emergency meeting at the weekend of her coalition partners to try to draw up a plan to deal with the influx of asylum seekers.

The flood of refugees into the nation could “simply not be reversed,” said Peter Altmaier, who is the minister charged with coordinating the government’s response to the crisis.

Merkel has called Sunday’s meeting of coalition party leaders – Christian Social Union (CSU) leader and Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer as well and Social Democrat (SPD) chief Sigmar Gabriel – as thousands of refugees continue to cross into Germany each day.

The flow of refugees into Germany has sparked tensions in Merkel’s ruling coalition as well as leading to a drop in support for her Christian Democrats (CDU) and their CSU allies.

More than 6,500 refugees crossed into the southern German state of Bavaria on Wednesday alone with the chaos on the nation’s borders is triggering friction between European Union member states.

Officially Germany expects 800,000 refugees to enter the country this year, although the number is likely to top 1 million.

Underlining the sense of unease among Germans about the crisis, support for the CDU/CSU fell 2 percentage points this week to 36 per cent, the polling group Forsa said on Wednesday in a survey drawn up for the weekly Stern magazine and broadcaster RTL.

The arrival of refugees has also led to complaints from local officials overseeing the asylum seekers that they are unable to cope with the numbers of arrivals amid outbreaks of violence among refugees at overcrowded shelters.

The CDU-CSU has now lost 5.5 percentage points since it was returned to power in the September 2013 election, the lowest level in three years, Forsa said.

Sunday’s meeting also follows a clash between Merkel and Seehofer over her decision early last month to lift European asylum rules to help provide those fleeing war zones such as Syria with a passage to Germany.

The chancellor has also rejected Seehofer’s call to declare an upper limit on the number of asylum seekers that Germany can accept, as a result adding to the friction between the two political allies.

“We cannot manage this for weeks on end,” said Seehofer this week with the tensions between Munich and Berlin having even sparked speculation of a breakup of Merkel’s ruling coalition.

“We have to go through this together,” said Labour Minister Andrea Nahles, who is a member of the SPD.

Among the steps to be considered at Sunday’s meeting is likely to be the CSU’s call for transit zones to be set up on Germany’s borders where asylum seekers’ applications can be assessed before they enter the country.

“This crisis is a humanitarian imperative,” Altmaier told a conference in Berlin, adding that Germany will be measured one day by whether it had failed or not in the crisis.

“We have made progress in the last few weeks at European level,” said Altmaier, citing measures for the distribution of refugees.

Merkel has already toughened up Germany’s asylum laws to help accelerate the return to their homelands of those who are not entitled to asylum.

At the same time, she has stepped up the pressure to resolve the problems that are behind the influx of refugees, such as the conflict in Syria.

Altmaier said Europe is working with Turkey to try to stem the tide of refugees through the country and before they embark on the often perilous journey to Europe across the Mediterranean.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was in Athens on Thursday to press Berlin’s case for action to help reduce the numbers of refugees trying to make their way to northern European states.

Gabriel, who is also Economics Minister, visited Moscow this week for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on ways to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Still, Merkel has struggled to reach a consensus with Germany’s EU partners over the handling of the refugee crisis notably among Central European states where there is considerable hostility to accepting asylum seekers.

In his comments, Altmaier also dismissed warnings of social tension emerging as the nation attempted to absorb large numbers of refugees as exaggerated, noting Germany’s high job vacancy rate and low numbers of youth unemployed.

The number of job vacancies in the country stood at 612,236 in October, 18.3 per cent more than in the same month last year, the German Labour Office said on Thursday.