German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD), has called for more aid to be given to Jordan and Lebanon, to help them deal with the refugee crisis, more European solidarity, and a new relationship with Russia. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.
Sigmar Gabriel has been chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany since 2009. In December 2013 he became vice chancellor and Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy.
He was interviewed by Der Tagesspiegel’s Stephan Haselberger.
Munich seems to be near the point of collapse in terms of accepting any more refugees, the regions are also struggling. What needs to be done?
It’s true, that indecisiveness and inaction at European level has led to Germany nearing the end of its tether. Primarily, it is not the sheer number of individuals, but the frequency and speed at which they are arriving that is creating problems for the regions and communities.
How can the influx of refugees be curbed?
Obviously, on Monday (14 September) we must finally take the pressure off Germany through the distribution of the 160,000 refugees. Certainly, further measures will have to follow, because 160,000 is just a drop in the ocean. Currently, this number of people is arriving in Germany in just one and a half months. In parallel with the proposed redistribution, we need to provide fast and effective aid to the refugees’ countries of origin.
Specifically, we have to help those countries that neighbour warzones and conflict areas, because of the hundreds of thousands of people they need to take in. So long as the misery of people grows in the Jordanian and Lebanese refugee camps, people will continue to make their way towards Europe. This is what we have to address, sooner rather than later.
Germany and Europe should put together an emergency aid package of €1.5 billion for food, shelter and, above all, schools for the largest refugee camps. The Gulf States and the USA are called upon to match this amount. It is not right that hundreds of billions can be made available in a few short weeks to bail out our banks, but that a mere fraction of that sum cannot be found by the international community to help save lives.
What can the international community do to tackle the actual causes of the crisis, namely, the Syrian Civil War and the rise of the so-called Islamic State?
We have to revise our relationship with Russia. The key to ending these wars rests in both Moscow and Washington. If the threat of escalation continues, with one side backed by the Kremlin and the other backed by the White House, then the number of refugees will only increase. We have to prevent this.
Why are you so confident that a diplomatic solution, with German contribution, can be found to the Syrian crisis?
The successful negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programme, reached thanks to both German and European help, shows that an agreement of this nature is in fact possible. This is why we should start to rebuild the relationship between Russia and Europe.
What needs to be done to defuse the situation on the German-Austria border?
We have to make it clearer, at a much earlier stage, who can claim asylum in Europe, and who cannot. Carrying this out just on the Austrian border is too little too late. The EU must finally establish the reception centres it has planned on the Greek border and in Italy. The processing must be carried out there, as well as the proposed distribution.
We also need these centres in Hungary, preferably under the control of the UN Refugee Agency, so these people don’t have to be left to the mercy of Mr Orbán. When there are thousands of people walking along the autobahns, it’s difficult to stop all of them and distribute them accordingly.