"Flexibility is called for now"

Angela Merkel on refugee policy "Flexibility is called for now"

Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the rising numbers of refugees as a "key challenge over a longer period of time". It is "a task for the nation as a whole" that calls for greater flexibility, she said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel at the summer press conference

The issue of refugees dominated the summer press conference

Photo: Bundesregierung/Schacht

The German Basic Law, or constitution, lays down "clear principles" for dealing with refugees, said Merkel at the summer press conference in Berlin.

The Chancellor made the issue of refugees the focus of her press conference. It is not a natural disaster that we are seeing in many places, she said. But we are seeing a large number of disastrous situations. She pointed to the example of the tragedy in Austria, where only last week the bodies of 71 refugees were found in a lorry. Angela Merkel spoke of "inconceivable atrocities" and "unimaginable images".

Clear principles for dealing with refugees

Angela Merkel stressed that it is important to have clear principles and that these must be complied with in dealings with refugees. "These principles are laid out in our Basic Law or constitution," she said. The German Basic Law provides for the right to asylum for individuals fleeing political persecution. "We should be proud of the humanitarian principles enshrined in the Basic Law," said Angela Merkel. Germany also guarantees to protect individuals fleeing from wars. "The second fundamental principle is the principle of human dignity – which is assured in Article 1 of the Basic Law."

At the same time the Chancellor took a clear stance on every form of xenophobia. "We will be using the full force of the law against those who verbally or physically attack others, who torch shelters or try to resort to violence. There is zero tolerance for those who call into question the dignity of others," stressed Angela Merkel. The Chancellor urged Germans not to get involved in demonstrations to protest against the refugees coming to the country.

"Civil society is a reality"

In spite of everything, she said, Germany is a "good country" and is in "a good state of health." Civil society, often invoked and praised, is a reality, she said, and added how proud she is to see so many people giving freely to help refugees in Germany. "The number of helpers is many times higher than the number of rabble-rousers and xenophobes."

Now we must look at what specific political measures are needed, she said. She looked at three specific fields of action: action at national level in Germany, action at European level and action at the level of the countries of origin, looking at ways of tackling the factors that force people to flee their homes in the first place.

For Germany, the issue of refugees is a "task for the nation as a whole". It is a "key challenge over a longer period of time." If we are to effectively tackle the problems, "German thoroughness" and "German flexibility" will be needed. The problem cannot be resolved with "business as usual". Angela Merkel declared her conviction that Germany can resolve the problems it faces. "Germany is a strong country. We have already achieved so much." Time and time again Germany has risen to the challenge, she said, giving the examples of German reunification 25 years ago, the country’s energy shift to put energy supplies on a more sustainable footing, and the effective assistance it has provided in the face of natural disasters.

Rapid asylum procedures especially important

Angela Merkel declared that, probably on 24 September, she will meet with the state premiers to adopt a comprehensive package of measures. One matter of particular urgency is the need to speed up asylum procedures. And Germany needs more initial reception centres. Decisions must be made swiftly on the cases of those who have no prospects of remaining in Germany, including primarily refugees from the Western Balkan states. Parallel to this it is important to help integrate refugees with good prospects of being allowed to stay in Germany. Angela Merkel advocated employing more teachers to teach refugees German in schools.

"Europa must get its act together"

The refugee problem also has a European dimension, she continued, and stressed, "Europe as a whole must get its act together. The European states must share responsibility for refugees seeking asylum." Angela Merkel spoke of "universal civil rights" which were instrumental when the European Community was first founded and which are still the essential European values.

Angela Merkel said that a high level of agreement already exists between Germany and France with regard to the next operational steps to be taken. Consultations will now be held with the other countries.

Fighting the root causes

As well as the situation in Germany and the European dimension, there is a need to fight the root causes of the problem. Here it becomes apparent how important foreign policy and international cooperation are. Efforts in conjunction with the conflict in Syria are particularly important, said the Chancellor, but she also mentioned the situation in Afghanistan, where further talks are needed with the Taliban.

Also on the agenda – Greece and Ukraine

Greece’s financial crisis was also on the agenda of the press conference. Angela Merkel explained that in spite of the announcement that new elections would be held, she is convinced that Greece will uphold its commitments. The third economic assistance programme has been approved, and the first instalment disbursed. She stressed that the debate on Greece has not damaged Germany’s image. Germany, she pointed out, played a huge part in ensuring that Europe responded with one voice.

Commenting on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Angela Merkel underlined Germany’s will to continue working for the implementation of the Minsk agreements. She welcomed Ukraine’s efforts to undertake constitutional reform so as to accelerate the political process in the crisis affected area. Another Normandy format meeting could be held, with representatives of Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France engaging in direct discussions.

After taking office in 2005, Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her fist summer press conference at the Federal Press Conference in 2006. For Berlin-based journalists the summer press conference is a good opportunity to put their questions on topical political issues. The Federal Press Conference Association, which brings together parliamentary correspondents, was first founded in 1949.