Merkel Snubs Refugee Critics in Election Bet on Open Europe

  • Chancellor insists she's `truly working' to reduce influx
  • Two state leaders break ranks by calling for border curbs

Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuffed critics in her party pressing for a crackdown on Germany’s refugee influx, telling a state campaign rally that the solution lies at the European Union’s outer borders.

Merkel combined criticism of her EU partners with a slap at her Christian Democratic Union’s lead candidates in two state elections on March 13, who broke ranks with the chancellor by urging migrant quotas for Germany. At stake is “how people will look at Europe in the future” and “how we coexist with our neighbors, including in Muslim countries,” the chancellor said.

“I’m truly working to reduce the number of refugees,” Merkel said Monday in the western town of Landau. “Some people always think I don’t even want that. I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t have deployed NATO in the Mediterranean to track those boats.”

Merkel’s rejection of shutting intra-European borders to stem the biggest refugee crisis since World War II faces growing resistance within her party. The two state leaders, lining up with Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer’s call for a cap on migration, are challenging her policy as the CDU’s poll lead in the two states shrinks.

CDU candidates Julia Kloeckner, who is running to lead the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, and Guido Wolf, who’s seeking to win back the region of Baden-Wuerttemberg for Merkel’s party, issued a statement calling for Germany to take its cue from neighboring Austria and set daily refugee quotas. Also voting on March 13 is the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, where polls suggest Merkel’s party will win by about 10 percentage points.

EU Impasse

Fresh from an EU summit last week that failed to bridge divisions over refugee policy, Merkel said progress toward a solution is “too slow” and there are “many problems with European solidarity.” In the absence of a united European response, the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance agreed this month to a German request to track refugee boats in the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

“Certainly it’s taking too long for a number of people, but shuttering borders also has its disadvantages,” she said.

In a message aimed at Kloeckner and Wolf, the chancellor asked party members to hold off on calls for measures to secure Germany’s border to avoid jeopardizing progress at an EU summit on migration in March, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported, citing comments by Merkel at a conference call with her party’s leadership on Monday.

To reduce the refugee flow after more than 1 million arrivals last year, Germany is pressing 17 countries, most of them in Africa, to take back citizens whose asylum bids have been denied, the Die Welt newspaper reported, citing government documents.

Open Borders

Merkel’s argument that closing borders within Europe risks wrecking the system of passport-free travel got a boost from a study that calculated the potential cost to the EU’s economy at as much as 1.4 trillion euros ($1.55 trillion) over the next decade. The bloc’s gross domestic product was $18.5 trillion in 2014, according to the World Bank.

Permanently restoring identity checks within the EU would mean longer waits at border crossings for commercial traffic, leading to increased production costs, higher consumer prices and lower demand, according to the Prognos study commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation.

“If Europe’s internal barriers go back up, it will put even more pressure on growth, which is already weak,” Aart De Geus, the foundation’s head, said in a statement. “Ultimately, it is the people who will pay.”

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