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German Government Agrees to Pay More for Refugees

Germany’s federal government and 16 states have agreed on a slew of new measures to deal with an increase in refugees, at a meeting on Wednesday that ran overtime into the evening.

The federal government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz will increase the lump sum paid to the 16 state governments to deal with refugees by €1 billion ($1.1 billion) for the year 2023.

However, Scholz’s government has so far refused to bow to the states’ demand for the payment of a lump sum of €1,000 per refugee, which the states say would prevent further debates as it would also cover any increase in the number of people seeking refuge.

The federal government and the states also agreed to modernize their IT systems in order to speed up asylum applications, which currently take 26 months on average.

Successful applicants would have a faster pathway to asylum while unsuccessful applicants could be deported more quickly.

“Controlling and limiting irregular migration” is a priority for Germany, Scholz said.

Berlin and other states have built makeshift accomodation to cope with the increase in asylum seekers

Scholz added that the federal government is keen to strike deals with several countries that would open up pathways for a certain number of “qualified staff” to migrate to Germany in exchange for deporting irregular migrants whose applications have been declined back to their countries of origin.

In the first four months of 2023, more than 101,000 asylum applications were filed in Germany — an increase of 78% from the same period last year.

Months of negotiations ahead

Despite progress on some issues, the meeting did not result in a long-term funding deal.

Ahead of the meeting, the leaders of Germany’s state governments demanded more federal funds from the national government to help accommodate refugees and asylum seekers. 

The federal government, and in particular Finance Minister Christian Lindner from the business-oriented neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP), had argued that Berlin already contributes generously towards the costs. 

Lindner and others, like Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, have also pointed to ongoing negotiations at the EU level on new asylum procedures that are likely to be more restrictive, saying that these should also reduce the financial burden going forward. 

A decision on a permanent, long-term funding scheme is expected to be made in November.

States calling for more, and more flexible federal assistance

Nevertheless, Germany’s states are calling for the adoption of what it calls a system that can “breathe.” By this, the regional governments mean that instead of federal funds for Germany’s states being agreed for fixed periods of time (generally one year), they should be flexible and should automatically increase if the number of people arriving does.

This follows higher-than-expected asylum-seeker numbers in Europe in 2022, attributable in no small part to a combination of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to the majority of COVID-19-related cross-border travel restrictions coming to an end. 

The 16 states can often struggle to reach a consensus for talks with the federal government, given that they all have their own different coalitions and governments, pitting conservative-led regions like Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia (at present at least) against notoriously left-leaning city-states like Bremen and Berlin. 

Hendrik Wüst, the Christian Democrat (CDU) state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the deputy president of the group of state premiers, agreed on a position paper to put to Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government — a paper that appears to anticipate this dispute going on for months. 

“The federal chancellor and the heads of the state governments will meet again, by November 2023 at the latest, to debate the concrete implementation of this model,” their paper said. 

The states identify four areas where they’re hoping for assistance: full compensation for the accommodation and heating costs of asylum-seekers, payments on a per capita basis that would rise with increased numbers, and federal contributions to efforts to promote integration (such as German language classes) and for care for unaccompanied minors. 

Ministers point to new, likely tougher EU rules 

Federal government ministers, meanwhile, are arguing that the EU is currently in the process of clamping down on refugees more rigorously at the bloc’s external border. 

These new rules are still under deliberation at the EU level and are not yet ripe to return to the German legislature for approval, but several European politicians have hinted at some of the likely changes being considered. 

German Finance Minister Lindner was one of them, speaking on German television on Tuesday evening ahead of the meeting. 

“I believe that, in order to get back in control, the physical protection of the [EU’s] external border should also be brought into consideration,” Lindner said on the RTL/ntv partner broadcasters. When pressed on what exactly he meant by physical protection, he used the German word that probably best translates as a “fence.” 

Interior Minister Faeser, a Social Democrat, had made similar comments in the newspapers over the weekend. She told Bild am Sonntag that the EU should do more to try to ensure that only people with a realistic chance of being granted asylum cross its external borders. 

“In future, decisions on asylum for people with barely any chance of securing protection inside the EU must be taken at the [bloc’s] external borders,” Faeser said. People without realistic chances, for instance if they come from a country EU members deem to be generally safe and cannot demonstrate a personal reason for fleeing, should “return to their homes from there,” Faeser said. 

Source : DW