The leaders of Germany's three-way coalition have agreed to a comprehensive immigration package to deal with migrants seeking asylum, following a multi-week power struggle that almost saw chancellor Angela Merkel out of a job, as well as the almost-resignation of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
Merkel's Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) have all agreed on a compromise package to deal with illegal migration which will strengthen asylum policy.
SPD Chairman Andrea Nahles announced the agreement Thursday night after a coalition committee meeting in Berlin, which includes "no camps" for refugee housing as well as an accelerated process for repatriating refugees.
Interior Minister Seehofer (CSU) was optimistic about the agreement, whose terms were documented by Welt (translated):
- The right to asylum does not include the right to choose the European country to receive asylum. For this reason, persons who have already applied for asylum in another European Union member state (EURODAC Cat. 1 entry) are to be rejected directly to the competent country at the German-Austrian border, provided that an administrative agreement or conduct has been concluded with that Member State that he has withdrawn the claimants. In cases where countries refuse administrative direct rejection agreements, the refusal takes place at the German-Austrian border on the basis of an agreement with the Republic of Austria.
- For the purpose of the transit procedure, the Federal Police shall use its existing facilities close to the border, unless the persons are brought directly to the existing accommodation facility in the transit area of Munich Airport and can return from there to the receiving country. There will be separate rooms in the accommodation for families and persons with special needs. As with the existing airport procedure, the persons do not legally travel to Germany. The rejection will be made within 48 hours.
- For those asylum seekers who have already been registered in another EU Member State and are found domestically, a special, accelerated procedure will be introduced in the ANKER bodies. In accordance with the special reception facilities already regulated in the Asylum Act, this is standardized in a separate regulation (BAMF procedural sections within one week each, Residenzpflicht, no distribution to the local authorities). The accelerated procedure does not justify self-admission to the asylum appraisal, it is limited to the jurisdiction review under the Dublin Regulation. Increased use of veiling detectives and other intelligent border police approaches can significantly increase the number of those who are covered by a EURODAC entry close to the border and who are immediately taken to the AnKER centers. To further speed up the procedures, the Federal Ministry of the Interior will swiftly implement the results of the Bund-Länder working group on the Dublin procedure set up by the Minister Presidents' Conference.
- The Federal Ministry of the Interior, for Construction and Homeland will also submit timely proposals for further acceleration of the Dublin process. As part of the ongoing Dublin IV reform, Germany will work for an efficient redesign. The goal is to conclude a Dublin procedure in a few days.
- Today a Dublin return from Germany only succeeds in about 15% of cases. To significantly increase this ratio, we conclude administrative agreements with various EU Member States in accordance with Art. 36 Dublin Regulation. These agreements are intended to accelerate the return processes and to eliminate mutual hindrances to return. Thus, Germany can work much more effectively at the Dublin return. In addition, the Dublin area of the BAMF has to be considerably strengthened. The just agreed increase in personnel at BAMF is essential for this and will be continued if necessary.
- Germany will support the EU Member States at the external borders of the European Union in meeting their particular challenges. For example, Spain and Greece have agreed to progressively complete and close the cases of family reunification.
- In order to further speed up the return, the Confederation will repatriate the Dublin cases from the AnKER institutions, as far as the respective countries so desire. So far, although the procedure for clarifying the return of the BAMF is carried out - but the responsibility for the actual repatriation goes to one of the immigration authorities. This delays the procedures and is therefore changed. In addition, the Confederation will in future also take over the procurement of the necessary travel documents, as far as the respective countries so desire.
- The European Council has decided to significantly expand FRONTEX and extend its mandate. We will support these efforts.
- Germany will fight visa abuse at European level.
- The bill for a skilled labor immigration law will be introduced into the legislative process by the Federal Cabinet this year.
Now to get Austria and Hungary to agree
The announced deal comes on the heels of discussions held by Merkel and Seehofer with the leaders of Hungary and Austria respectively in order to gain support for border policy.
While Seehofer travelled to Vienna to meet with Austrian prime minister Sebastian Kurz - one week after they conducted a massive border drill, Merkel met with Hungarian leader Victor Orban in Berlin to try and implore Hungary to soften its stance on migrants.
The two leaders embody the EU's split over migration. Germany allowed a million people to enter in 2015, while Hungary has so far rejected a scheme to relocate 160,000 refugees from overcrowded camps in Greece and Italy. -BBC
During a joint news conference in Berlin, Merkel used the tried-and-true appeal to humanitarianism to make her case - saying she thinks Europe should protect its borders without becoming "some sort of fortress."
"I believe - and this is the difference - Europe's soul is humanity. And if we want to keep that soul, if Europe and its values wants to succeed in the world, then it must not close itself off," said the German chancellor.
Orban, on the other hand, staunchly opposes resettling migrants in Europe - suggesting instead that borders be totally closed, and factors encouraging migration must be mitigated.
"If we want to act humanely, then there must be no pull-factor. And there is only one solution: closing off of the borders, and bringing the support over there. And not let those in who bring problems," Orban said, adding that Hungary would refuse to take migrants turned away by Germany.
"We think that the people Germany is sending back must go to Greece and not Hungary. That will be a long legal dispute, and we are ready for it," he said.
Last week EU leaders agreed to a rough deal on migrants after marathon negotiations in Brussels - however there have been major disagreements on implementation. The broad measures agreed upon include (via BBC):
- Exploring the possibility of "regional disembarkation platforms", designed to thwart people-smuggling gangs by processing migrants outside the EU
- Setting up secure migrant processing centres in EU countries, although no country has yet volunteered to host one. Mr Macron said France would not host one as it was not a country where migrants landed but Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the centres could be anywhere in the EU
- Strengthening external border controls, with more funding for Turkey and countries in North Africa
- Boosting investment in Africa to help the continent achieve a "socio-economic transformation" so people no longer want to leave in pursuit of a better life in Europe
Merkel's deal with Seehofer - who leads her party's Bavarian CSU allies, attempted to diffuse a schism that threatened to destroy her four-month-old coalition government. Seehofer, notably, wants to turn away asylum seekers already registered in other EU nations.
The face-saving compromise has been criticized as vague and ineffective - with some noting that it calls for migrant transit centers at just three border crossings between Germany and Austria, while there's nothing to stop a flood of migrants pouring through other crossing points.
“This is just a partial solution because it doesn’t take into account other German borders,” said the deputy chairman of the German police federation, Jörg Radek.
Vienna is upset that it wasn't consulted on last week's deal, which will see some migrants to be turned away at Germany's border with Austria.
“We definitely won’t accept a solution that places a burden on Austria,” Heinz-Christian Strache, the Austrian deputy chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party, told Bild newspaper. “It can’t be that Austria should now suddenly be punished for the mistakes made by the German government.”
Austria threatened this week to take measures to “protect” its southern borders with Italy and Slovenia in a knock-on effect of Germany’s planned frontier restrictions that could threaten freedom of movement across Europe’s Schengen zone. -The Times
If Seehofer, 69, can't persuade Austria and Italy to take migrants back, the German plan will be doomed. That said Kurz told reporters on Thursday that Germany would take "no measures" that would punish Austria for inaction at this time, and that Seehofer would meet again next week with Austrian and Italian counterparts to continue discussions.
“We read that there will be no measures taken by Germany at the expense of Austria,” Kurz said, adding that Germany and Austria were committed to working together along with Italy to curb the flow of migrants traveling across the Mediterranean Sea.
“There will be no solution that will hold Austria responsible for refugees,” Seehofer said, referring to asylum seekers registered in other EU countries.
Austria, meanwhile, just conducted border-security exercises in the border town of Spielfeld in preparation for a wave of 80,000 migrants expected to travel through the new "Balkan route" from Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Croatia to Western and Central Europe.
"The situation is critical," said General Fritz Lang, director of Austria's Federal Criminal Police Office, who says that 30 illegal border crossings are attempted every day. According to Lang, the migrants are primarily young male loners, "many of whom are considered "terrorist fighters," which require strong border protection.
And as Germany's new coalition agreement hangs by a thread, migrants should be aware that populist countries now have migrant-eating dogs.