Austrian move puts pressure on Merkel to solve migration issue

Vienna will admit 3,200 migrants daily, but they must seek asylum in a neighbouring state

German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech about refugee policy at the Bundestag in Berlin on Wednesday. Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

German chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech about refugee policy at the Bundestag in Berlin on Wednesday. Photograph: Markus Schreiber/AP

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s vow to throttle the flow of asylum seekers arriving in Germany this year suffered another setback ahead of Thursday’s EU summit after Austria announced it would cap asylum applications at just 80 a day.

While the German leader hopes to win over EU leaders to greater migration co-operation with Turkey, Vienna announced it would admit 3,200 migrants daily, but only if they sought asylum in a neighbouring state.

“Austria is among the EU countries most under strain and is reaching breaking point,” said Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Austria’s interior minister. “It stands to reason to want to secure your own borders when there is no European solution.”

So far in 2016 Austria has processed an average of 250 asylum seekers a day. The new cap increases pressure on Dr Merkel for progress on a pan-European solution to the migration crisis.

On Wednesday, the German leader dampened expectations that leaders would agree on permanent relocation quotas. It would be “laughable” to expect that, Dr Merkel told the Bundestag, given the EU had yet to redistribute the 160,000 people agreed last year.

Given broad opposition to permanent quotas, the German leader hopes for progress on another front: to cut numbers entering Europe by stepping up further co-operation with Turkey.

Last year the EU pledged €3 billion to help Syrian refugees in Turkey, but Ankara says it needs at least €10 billion.

“At the forefront now is a common position on how we want to protect our external borders – and to do that, it makes sense to implement the EU-Turkey agenda,” said Dr Merkel.

Border controls

Greece

German opposition politicians attacked Dr Merkel for pushing a deal with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“It’s no solution to transform Turkey into a refugee prison operated by Warder Erdogan, who can blackmail Europe by keeping the key to the prison in his pocket,” said Sahra Wagenknecht, co-leader of the opposition Linke.

With national border controls springing up all over Europe, Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann said he expected Germany to follow Vienna’s example soon and clamp down on the number of asylum seekers allowed into the country.

Ahead of the EU summit, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker predicted that the chancellor would “outlast all of her current critics” of her migration stance.

Pointing to Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s efforts to reunite Germany, often against political opposition, he told the Bild tabloid: “History has shown he was right and it will also show Angela Merkel is right.”

Ahead of the Brussels Brexit debate, Dr Merkel described British welfare curb demands as “justified and understandable”.

“It is only natural for every member state to be able to protect its social system against abuse,” she said.