January 20, 2016 / 8:24 AM / in 2 years

Merkel says Austrian cap on refugees 'not helpful' for European solution

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a session of the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

KREUTH, Germany (Reuters) - Germany said on Wednesday Austria’s decision to cap the number of refugees it will let in and tighten border controls was “not helpful” to German efforts to negotiate a European Union-wide solution to the migrant crisis and ensure Turkey’s support.

Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke during a meeting with her conservative allies in Bavaria, the state bordering Austria that serves as an entry point for virtually all migrants heading to Germany, two members of the Bavarian party told Reuters.

Merkel is under popular pressure to cap migrant arrivals that last year reached 1.1 million, reducing her popularity and fuelling support for an anti-immigration populist party.

She wants to stem the influx by improving conditions at Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, giving Turkey aid in exchange for a crackdown on people smugglers responsible for the passage into Europe of many of the migrants from that country, and distributing refugees across the EU based on a quota system.

Her efforts have produced little tangible results to calm critics at home, including her Christian Social Union coalition ally in Bavaria who want her to reverse her open-door policy for refugees and shut Germany’s borders.

Some 3,000 migrants continue to stream over the border from Austria on average each day and if the trend continues Germany will have over a million more asylum seekers by the end of 2016.

Two members of the CSU who attended the meeting with Merkel in Kreuth near Munich said she had criticized Austria’s decision to limit the number of people allowed to claim asylum there this year at less than half the 2015 total of 90,000.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer said after the talks with Merkel that his party did not believe the chancellor would be able to broker a solution on the European level any time soon.

“Today was disappointing,” he told ARD television. “There was no trace of a concession. Tough politics await us in the next weeks and months.”

He added: “We don’t believe that in the near future a solution will be found in Europe to limit the number of refugees. Therefore we as Germans have to act now.”

Speaking at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that Austria’s decision was a “cry for help” from Europe.

Gabriel, who serves as Merkel’s deputy in a right-left coalition government, added that there was only a broad EU solution to the refugee crisis and that closing borders across the continent would lead to an “economic catastrophe”.

INTERIM CONCLUSIONS AT EU SUMMIT

Merkel has expressed fear that shutting borders across Europe’s Schengen zone of passport-free travel would menace the very existence of the euro common currency and EU single market.

Eastern European EU members wary of immigration are loath to help Germany, Austria and Sweden, which have taken in a huge majority of migrants. France, where the anti-immigrant National Front is on the rise, has also been cool to refugee quotas.

Austria’s decision came on the same day as Serbia’s announcement that it would deny migrants access to its territory unless they plan to seek asylum in Austria or Germany.

Arriving at the CSU meeting, Merkel said her government would bring new proposals on tackling the refugee crisis to an EU summit in mid-February. “Then we can draw an interim conclusion, then another interim conclusion, and then we will see where we stand,” she said.

Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, and her insistence that Germany can cope with last year’s influx, has strained local infrastructures and divided her conservatives.

Mass sexual attacks on women in Cologne and other German cities at New Year that have been largely blamed on young migrant men have deepened public scepticism about her policy.

Support for Merkel, long her conservative bloc’s main electoral asset, dropped 4 points to 44 percent if a theoretical presidential-style vote were to be held in Germany, a poll showed on Wednesday.

Nonetheless, Merkel remains way ahead of her Social Democrat (SPD) rival Gabriel, who was up 1 point at 16 percent. Merkel’s conservatives share power with the SPD in a “grand coalition”.

Additional reporting by Noah Barkin in Davos, Madeline Chambers and Paul Carrel in Berlin; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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