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7th May 2021

German minister criticises Merkel's 'friendly face' on migrants

Germany must be ready to "prepare a plan B" against the mass arrival of migrants and be ready to close its borders, German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt has said, in a direct challenge to chancellor Angela Merkel's policy.

"We need a quick change in the situation," Dobrindt said in an interview published in the Muenchner Merkur daily on Tuesday (19 January).

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"We must prepare ourselves for not being able to avoid border closures,” he said. "We must quickly agree on that with the other countries on the refugee route."

"It is not enough to show the world a friendly face," he added, referring to an expression used by Merkel last September to justify her policy of welcoming all Syrian refugees to Germany.

Dobrindt is from the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian democrat CDU, which has been critical of the chancellor's policy from the start.

Still 'the right one'?

His interview is the most open criticism of Merkel yet to come from her own coalition government.

It comes at a time when her authority on the refugee issue is being challenged by events in Cologne and other cities on New Year's Eve, when dozens of men, mainly of north African or Middle Eastern origin, including migrants, sexually assaulted women on the streets.

On Sunday, Bild, Germany’s most popular daily, asked on its first page whether Merkel is "still the right one".

Under the headline, it listed Germany's - and Merkel's - current problems: "Lack of respect, lack of authority, power struggles … terrorism, criminality, overstrained authorities.”

It concluded: "Merkel's refugee policy [is] at the point of failure."

Coming from a newspaper known for its populist tendencies, but which has, overall, supported Merkel's "Wilkommenspolitik”, the story could signal a change of fortune for the chancellor.

In the interview with the Muenchner Merkur, Dobrindt also pointed out the lack of support for her ideas in Europe

"Who speaks of a coalition of the willing to manage this crisis must also name the reality," he said, referring to a group of countries which Merkel has tried to rally to organise relocation and resettlement of refugees in Europe.

"On this issue there is a pact of the unwilling against us," Dobrindt said.

Pressure builds

So far, just 322 refugees out of a 160,000 quotas have been relocated from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, putting a cloud over Germany's main ideas on how to face the crisis at EU level.

Merkel has so far resisted calls, especially from the CSU, to limit the number of migrants coming to Germany. But she said she would try to "noticeably reduce the number of refugees", after more than 1 million people sought asylum in 2015.

The pressure could increase further.

Austria's interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, has said that from the end of this week, she will let through only migrants who intend to seek asylum in Germany.


On Wednesday, the Austrian federal government will also hold a summit with regions and local authorities to define means to "clearly reduce" the number of refugees.

'Visionary decisions'

While Merkel is being increasingly criticised, the director of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), William Lacy Swing, said he had "the greatest admiration for Merkel and her visionary and courageous decisions".

"We hoped that all 28 EU member states would imitate her and take responsibility. They did not but that doesn't weaken the admiration and the praise for Merkel's right decisions," he told the Die Welt newspaper.

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German leader says single market would “suffer massively” if borders were closed, but admitted that Europe is "vulnerable" and lacks the order to receive all refugees.

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Conservative critics of the German chancellor's refugee policy feel increasingly insecure after she fails to win over member states for a European solution. Still, few believe that her stepping down would lead to a solution.

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