German Chancellor Olaf Scholz convened a meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states to explore strategies for addressing the challenges posed by a significant influx of migrants. The discussions are scheduled to commence in the mid-afternoon and may extend into the late evening.
Scholz, who has said that the number of migrants coming to Germany “too high at the moment,” is under pressure to up financial support for states to deal with refugees and to reduce the numbers they receive.
Opposition’s priority: ‘numbers go down’
Politicians from the conservative opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have raised concerns over the government’s asylum policies.
Hendrik Wüst, the leader of Germany’s most populous state North Rhine-Westphalia, told German broadcaster ARD that he particularly hoped for an agreement to limit the number of irregular migrants with no chance at receiving asylum.
“The most important thing is that the numbers go down, in particular of those, who will have no lasting right to be here,” he said.
Wüst said that “the key to being able to integrate people better is simply the number — we must end irregular migration so that we can do justice with good integration to the people seeking protection here.”
Bavaria’s Markus Söder from the CSU, the sister party of the CDU in the southern German region, urged a “fundamental change in migration policy.”
“The aim must be to ensure that those who are not entitled to protection can be effectively turned back at the German border,” he told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
Several state leaders from Scholz’s center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) have also demanded ahead of the summit more money to cover the costs of hosting refugees.
The states and municipalities must be financially equipped “so that they are not overburdened by the accommodation, care and integration of refugees,” Andreas Bovenschulte, the leader of the northern state of Bremen, told the newspapers of the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND).
“The federal government must therefore significantly increase its share of the costs in the long term, and the federal states are in complete agreement on this.”
The 16 states suggested in a paper last month that the government should also halt cash payments to asylum seekers, saying that these were among the main incentives to come to Germany. Instead, they suggested a chip card payment system that could be used for relevant services and products, rather than currency valid for any purpose.
The Cabinet has acknowledged the burden states were bearing and ramped up efforts to introduce new measures to ease that pressure.
The measures include the introduction of temporary checks on the Polish, Czech and Swiss borders, as well as tougher punishment for people smugglers.
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser has proposed legislation to expedite the deportation of rejected asylum seekers. The government is also seeking to allow asylum seekers to start working sooner.
This could prove complex, even with Germany’s shortages of skilled labor, given that current rules require that authorities first prove that hiring somebody seeking asylum does not take that job away from anybody else.
Scholz has also announced that the government was trying to negotiate agreements for countries to take unsuccessful asylum-seekers back in exchange for more opportunities for legal immigration.
The SPD and its coalition partners have been under pressure to tackle migration and asylum policies, amid the rising popularity and political gains for the far-right, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.