Merkel Urged to Shift Her `Moral' Refugee Stance by EU's Tusk

  • Europe's future depends on Germany taking charge, Tusk says
  • Merkel coalition rift flares as asylum restrictions weighed

European Union President Donald Tusk said Germany needs to make it clear that Europe’s ability to absorb refugees is limited, challenging Chancellor Angela Merkel to signal toughness alongside moral principles.

Tusk’s comments in Berlin coincide with efforts by Merkel to maintain an open door for the 800,000 or more refugees and migrants expected in Germany this year while containing the domestic fallout that’s eroding her poll ratings. A Merkel ally in his previous post as Polish prime minister, Tusk couched his critique in a plea for German leadership as Europe faces challenges from countries such as Russia, on energy security and in securing the EU’s outer borders.

“They are of a European rather than specifically German nature,” he said in a speech Monday. “But whether Europe is able to meet those challenges will depend largely on Germany’s attitude.”

By wading into a debate within Merkel’s governing coalition about how to control the influx, Tusk underscored the strains caused by Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II, which includes criticism in and outside Germany that Merkel’s refusal to set limits is encouraging the flow of refugees via the Balkans and eastern Europe.

German Dilemma

The chancellor sought to quell renewed strife in her three-party government on Monday, saying a restricted asylum status floated by her coalition will affect “only a relatively small number” of Syrians arriving in Germany.

“I hope we can come to a common solution, because we need asylum applications to be sped up and we need order,” Merkel said at an event of her Christian Democratic Union party in the eastern German city of Schwerin.

The latest spat began last week when German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere proposed that arrivals from Syria be granted a status that prevents family members from joining them in Germany. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble backed de Maiziere, while Sigmar Gabriel, who heads Merkel’s Social Democratic coalition partner, said his party hadn’t been consulted.

Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman, expressed support for de Maiziere on Monday, saying he “naturally” enjoys the chancellor’s backing.

Berlin Wall

While Merkel has suggested that her experience of growing up behind the Berlin Wall in communist East Germany makes her averse to putting up new walls in Europe, Tusk questioned that argument.

“External borders do not necessarily mean walls,” he said. “Politics, as we know well, is first and foremost he ability to protect one’s own territory and its system of values."

Germany  “must believe that it is responsible not only for its moral message, but even more so for the whole political community of Europeans,” which also means taking responsibility for “securing European external borders,” he said.

Even so, “today Germany, and personally Angela Merkel are examples of the best European tradition.” he said. “Those who believe that Germany is too open, too tolerant, too liberal, forgot to do their homework about our tragic history.”

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