Angela Merkel emphasises EU progress on migration crisis

‘Considerable step forward’ made in fight against traffickers, German chancellor says

German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at a press conference at the end of a summit of European Union leaders with Turkey in Brussels on Tuesday. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

German chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at a press conference at the end of a summit of European Union leaders with Turkey in Brussels on Tuesday. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel worked hard to play up EU progress on the migration crisis, as nervous regional allies face sceptical voters in three state elections at the weekend.

The German leader is famed, even notorious, for her love of small, successive political steps. But her assertion that agreements with Turkey to reduce migrant numbers “would be a breakthrough if realised” was too qualified a remark for all but Dr Merkel’s most loyal foot-soldiers.

Dr Merkel had headed to Brussels hoping that emergency talks she demanded with Ankara would yield concrete results ahead of weekend polls, where her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is feeling pressure from voters over her migration strategy.

With decisions with Turkey postponed until the next regular Brussels gathering, Dr Merkel insisted the EU had “made a considerable step forward” in the fight against people traffickers.

“All in all, things are moving in the right direction,” she said. But, after Germany accepted 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015, Dr Merkel is under growing political pressure to deliver a promised “noticeable, sustainable” reduction in numbers this year.

Moral voice

“They shun their humanitarian responsibilities,” Mr Ban said.

But German regional CDU figures facing elections on Sunday were more equivocal in their assessment of Dr Merkel’s progress in Brussels.

Reiner Haseloff, state leader in Saxony-Anhalt and facing the polls on Sunday, said the success or failure of EU talks would be about whether leaders “could stop irregular or illegal immigration”.

CDU Bundestag leader Volker Kauder insisted on German television that the summit was “an important intermediary step” but warned nervous party members and supporters that “not all of Turkey’s wishes will be granted”.

Visa-free travel

“We have mixed feelings at the moment,” said Horst Seehofer, CSU leader and Bavarian premier, expressing “serious concerns” about agreeing to Turkey’s demands – in particular visa-free travel – as its price for reducing asylum numbers.

Those concerns about doing a deal with Turkey are widespread across all political parties.

“We will not allow ourselves to be blackmailed by Turkey, especially not on human rights,” said Heiko Maas, the federal justice minister from Dr Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD).

Germany’s media was equally restrained in its analysis of the Brussels talks, with the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily telling readers on its website: “Here’s what the EU has (not yet) agreed with Turkey.”

As EU leaders debate new migration rules, the winter weather and border closures along the so-called Balkan route have pushed down numbers of people arriving in Germany.

The number of people seeking asylum in Germany had dropped by a third to 61,428.