BRUSSELS (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel rounded on east European governments that refuse to take in refugees, accusing them of yielding to prejudice and ignoring their own history, the Politico website reported on Thursday.
Merkel made the comments at a closed-door meeting with lawmakers of the centre-right European People’s Party before she and French President Francois Hollande jointly addressed the European Parliament on Wednesday, the news website said.
The conservative German leader assailed the response of Hungarian, Czech, Slovak and some Baltic leaders to Europe’s refugee crisis, without naming them, saying they should know better having lived behind a fence themselves.
“We eastern Europeans — I’m counting myself as an eastern European — we have seen that isolation doesn’t help,” Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, was quoted as saying.
“The refugees won’t be stopped if we just build fences … and I’ve lived behind a fence for long enough.”
“Those who can consider themselves lucky that they have lived to see the end of the Cold War now think that one can completely stay out of certain developments of globalization. It just strikes me as somehow very weird,” she said.
Conservative Hungarian leader Victor Orban and centre-left Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico have attacked Merkel for throwing open Germany’s borders to Syrian refugees, saying she has triggered a surge of migrants that Europe cannot cope with and that threatens its “Christian values”.
The chancellor dismissed such arguments, saying: “It’s not acceptable that we have free movement of goods and of people, but that some countries say ‘this we can’t do, and that we can’t, and we can’t take in Syrians, because we’re not ready yet’.
“When someone says: ‘This is not my Europe, I won’t accept Muslims’ … I have to say, this is not negotiable,” Politico quoted her as saying. “Who are we to defend Christians around the world if we say we won’t accept a Muslim or a mosque in our country? That won’t do.”
More than half a million migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, have arrived in the European Union so far this year. Hungary has built a barbed wire fence along its border with Serbia to keep them out after tens of thousands flooded in on their way to Germany.
Merkel said east European EU countries could be given more time to adapt to taking their share of refugees, but to reject them as a matter of principle was a danger for Europe.
The Party of European Socialists is considering a proposal by the leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, Gianni Pitella, to suspend Fico’s Smer party over his comments on the refugee crisis.
The EPP, the largest political family in the EU legislature, has so far taken no disciplinary action against Orban’s Fidesz party, despite efforts by smaller groups in the parliament to launch proceedings to suspend Hungary’s EU membership over its record on fundamental rights.
Critics say the power-sharing arrangement between the EPP and the Socialists in the EU parliament affords those parties protection from European political censure.
Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Tom Heneghan