Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP group in Parliament, has welcomed Turkey’s commitment to reduce the number of refugees crossing into Europe. EU member states must now do their part and start taking in their quotas of refugees, he said. EurActiv’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.
Manfred Weber is Chairperson of the European People’s Party Group (EPP) in the European Parliament and a deputy in the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Mr Weber, last November, Bavaria’s Finance Minister Markus Söder said of the refugee crisis that “the truth is on the border”. What do you think of this? Do you agree?
The truth has many facets. On the one hand, the refugee crisis is about humanity, yet on the other it is a simple case about our capacity to help. My native Bavaria has made an enormous effort since last September, one only has to think about the numerous volunteers who have pitched in.
Every local politician has to keep in mind though that the willingness to help has its limits. Both Germany and Europe as a whole must strike a better balance and work to massively reduce the number of refugees.
As a European politician, you are fervently trying to find a European solution to the crisis. Are you considering what a “Plan B’ might look like? One in which the German borders are controlled even more tightly and the Macedonian-Greek border reinforced even further?
No. Both the CDU and CSU are working together for a European solution. This is the only solution that will have a long-term effect, preserve the Schengen area and guarantee the continent’s freedom.
Sweden and Denmark have introduced border controls. But such temporary, nationally-introduced measures are no reason to move away from finding a European solution. It’s about more than finding a solution to a single problem: this is about the self-assertion of our European way of life.
How much patience does your party have for Chancellor Merkel’s refugee policy?
The CSU has played an important role in the last month. We have not only shown willingness to help, but made it clear last autumn that there are limitations to our capacity. We have proven, as a result, that the CSU plays an important part in the national political spectrum and that we are a separate, powerful voice coming out of Bavaria, which asks hard questions.
We have always had a clear objective: we want to be constructive and to be a part of the solution. Asylum Packages I and II both have our fingerprints all over them. In Brussels this is evident in several areas too.
After the adoption of Asylum Package II, further calls were made by the CDU to tighten the asylum law even further. Thomas Strobl (CDU) has recently suggested that asylum seekers should only be eligible for permanent residency after five years, not the current three. Is this just peacocking, or a serious proposal?
We have to keep these things separate from each other. We currently have no problem with the asylum law in Germany. The asylum law is a great achievement for both this country and all of Europe. We shouldn’t allow it to be picked apart by anyone. Only about 2-3% of people that come to us actually apply for asylum. The majority of people arriving at our doorstep are war refugees.
As far as Thomas Strobl’s thoughts on permanent residence goes, I wholeheartedly agree. War refugees should only be granted temporary residency. We want to help those who need it. But they will only be entitled to protection so long as Syria is at war. But then they have to go back. This is how war refugees from the former Yugoslavia were handled.
Possible European solutions include the introduction of quotas. The Chancellor has announced that some EU states have agreed to accept refugee quotas from Turkey.
It is only right and necessary that the Chancellor goes down this route. Between 30,000 and 50,000 people are waiting on the Turkey-Syria border. Before the EU summit on 18 and 19 February, the mass flight of people from Aleppo will act as a sort of test case for Europeans. On the one hand, we need Turkey to offer essential aid and disperse the €3 billion in funds that has been made available. And on the other, EU member states must start taking in their quotas of refugees.
Should Turkey get more support from Europe?
We cannot expect Ankara to allow people across its border with Syria, yet not allow anyone to cross into Europe. That’s not a serious expectation. The Juncker Commission has proposed a resettlement programme that puts forward these quotas. Among those waiting on the Syria-Turkey border are people who need urgent medical care.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, should take into account which refugees are most at risk and which should be brought to Europe. It shouldn’t be left up to traffickers and smugglers to decide who comes into Europe. EU member states need to regain their authority in this area. We need a proper distribution mechanism in the European Union.
It is pretty weak at the moment though. In fact, only 481 refugees that arrived in Greece or Italy have been redistributed to other member states. 160,000 are supposed to be redistributed over the next two years.
It is very sobering what we have lived through in the last month. This redistribution of over one hundred thousand people, agreed on by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, does not work in practice. It is the old, selfish and nationalistic attitudes of Europe that cannot agree on the issue and have produced this terrible situation.
Poland, for example, has not received a single refugee from Greece or Italy.
Poland is not alone in this regard. Everyone has to contribute. We need a win at the next EU summit.
Back to the war in Syria. How do you assess Russia’s role in the fight, given its support of President Bashar Assad?
Russia’s bombings over the last few days have come at an unfortunate time for the peace process in Geneva. It has necessitated a pause in proceedings, as facts about the military on the ground are established. Moscow is having a very destructive effect here, just like in eastern Ukraine.
Is it correct that your party leader, Horst Seehofer, visited President Vladimir Putin in the last few weeks?
That is correct. The worst thing that could happen is that Russia and the Europeans not talk anymore. We need each other, despite the many differences of opinion. What the CSU wants to make clear is that we will continue to stand with the government in maintaining a critical dialogue with difficult partners like Russia.
This article was also published by EurActiv Germany.