Germany’s Merkel Doubles Down on Criticism of Countries Opposed to EU Migrant Redistribution Scheme

By James Carstensen | September 12, 2017 | 11:24 PM EDT

Migrants in Hungary during a 2015 standoff with police over their refusal to go to an already full registration centre. (Photo: UNHCR/ Mark Henley)

Berlin ( – German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday condemned Hungary for rejecting a decision by the European Union’s highest court upholding an E.U. plan to redistribute asylum seekers across member countries.

“That a government says a ruling by the European Court of Justice does not interest them, that is unacceptable,” Merkel told the Berliner Zeitung.

The German leader, who has overseen one of the E.U.’s most welcoming responses to migrants and refugees entering Europe from mostly Middle Eastern and African countries, is pushing for “solidarity” across the 28-member bloc over migration policy.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, has attracted more than one million migrants since the beginning of the crisis in 2015.

The Hungarian government called the court decision a violation of countries’ rights and pledged to fight Brussels in order to defend “Hungary’s sovereignty, constitution, and identity.”

Under a E.U. policy agreed upon in September 2015, 120,000 migrants would be redistributed around the E.U. in a bid to ease the pressure on the countries most first enter – Greece and Italy.

Hungary was required to take in 1,294 migrants. Slovakia, whose allotment was 902, launched the legal challenge jointly with Hungary, but it did not dispute the ruling and promised to respect it.

At the weekend, Merkel voiced support for a unified E.U. migration policy, indirectly warning member-states which do not cooperate.

“If there is no solidarity on migration, neither will there be in other areas – and that would be bitter for European cohesion,” she told a German weekly newspaper.

Despite Hungary’s stance, Merkel was dismissive of the extent of opposition.

“When it comes to the redistribution of refugees, only three or four out of 28 states have outright refused to cooperate,” she said.

Merkel conceded, however, that it would “probably be easier to get such a distribution mechanism in Europe if all the other elements in refugee and migration policy are more stable.”

Elaborating, Merkel said, “if we successfully combat the causes of flight, effectively protect our borders, have a development partnership with Africa and put a stop to the people-smugglers, then distrust of managed legal migration will be cleared up.”

Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere, has proposed standardizing asylum procedures and benefits across the bloc,

He told Rheinische Post on Sunday the plan was necessary in particular to address a “pull effect” drawing asylum-seekers to Germany with its “generous” asylum conditions and benefits.

De Maiziere said his plan would provide relief to countries offering better conditions, such as Germany. He said benefits would be “levelled” across the E.U., but did not directly state whether that would mean lowering Germany’s existing benefits.

The minister also said an agreement has been reached with the E.U. to change Germany’s current system of legal protections which, he claimed, provide too many ways for failed asylum applicants to challenge the decision and stay in Germany.

“Rejected asylum-seekers can postpone their deportation through various legal pathways [in Germany], much more so than in other places,” he said.

The plan outlined by de Maiziere was publicly backed on Monday by European Parliament president Antonio Tajani.

Speaking to the Funke media group, Tajani said harmonizing procedures and benefits was needed as varying standards across the E.U. led to “asylum shopping,” where migrants identify and aim for countries offering better benefits and conditions. 

With elections looming on September 24, Martin Schulz, leader of the Social Democrats and Merkel’s primary challenger for the chancellorship, is supportive of standardizing asylum procedures and benefits across the bloc.

At the same time Schulz, also a former European Parliament president, accused de Maiziere of proposing the plan in time for the election.

Smaller opposition parties, the Left Party and the Greens, oppose the prospect of reducing asylum benefits, calling it unconstitutional.

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