Angela Merkel said that the future of the European Union depends on whether it can find answers to the “vital questions” posed by migration.
Addressing the Bundestag before heading to Brussels for a European summit that is likely to determine the future of her fraying coalition government, the German chancellor said European leaders should find a solution to asylum challenges “by allowing ourselves to be guided by values and rooting for multilateralism rather than unilateralism”.
If the heads of government gathering in Brussels failed to do so, Merkel said, they risked creating a situation where “no one believes in the value system that has made us so strong”.
Merkel will be going to Brussels under immense pressure from her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who is threatening to unilaterally turn away at German borders any migrants who have already registered in another EU country, unless the chancellor can come up with a European solution to the problem by 1 July.
In a 26-minute speech to the German parliament, notably in Seehofer’s absence, Merkel sounded a note of pessimism about the chances of striking an EU-wide deal on migration by Friday morning.
“We are not yet where we want to be,” she said, adding that EU leaders remained at odds on two out of seven key questions relating to common standards for asylum procedures across the EU and a quota system for redistributing asylum seekers – a proposal that has proved a contentious issue across Europe for the last two years.
Merkel defended her decision to keep open German borders to refugees at the height of the crisis in September 2015, saying: “I still believe it was right.”
But she also said it was time to return to practices before 2015 now that asylum requests had gone down, and to seek conversations with African states about deals to return migrants “who absolutely have no right to stay”, modelled on a 2016 agreement between Turkey and the EU.
Other European leaders such as Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, have proposed deals to set up “secure zones” for refugees in north African states such as Libya.
Throughout Merkel’s speech she was heckled by delegates of the rightwing populist party Alternative für Deutschland. At one point she interrupted her own speech with the words “My God, seriously now”.
According to a survey by the German broadcaster ARD, 75% of Germans support the chancellor’s call for a European solution on migration. Only 36% of those questioned believed she would be able to secure such a deal in the near future.