Merkel to meet conservative party leaders to end rift on refugees

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets on Wednesday with her conservative party leaders as she makes a fresh bid to end the deep rift that has opened up in her political bloc over the refugee crisis.

The meeting of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian-based allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), forms part of the buildup to a summit in Brussels on Monday when EU leaders will take stock of the measures introduced to deal with the refugee crisis and the threat it now poses to debt-hit Greece.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is also set to attend the Brussels summit, with Merkel hoping to secure Ankara's support in helping to manage the flow of refugees into Europe.

Despite calls from within CDU/CSU ranks for Merkel to change course in her handling of the refugee crisis, she insisted again in an hour-long TV interview on Sunday night that she was on the right path.

Instead of introducing national measures such as stepped-up border controls to deal with the crisis, as her critics have demanded, Merkel said a European solution was the only way to resolve the migrant drama.

"I am firmly convinced that the path I have started down is the right one," Merkel said, adding that she was optimistic her proposals would succeed. She told state broadcaster ARD she did not have a plan B.

But CSU chief Horst Seehofer once again lashed out at the chancellor ahead of Wednesday's talks.

In an interview in the weekly Spiegel, Seehofer demanded that Merkel limit the number of refugee arrivals to 200,000 this year, a move she ruled out again on Sunday.

"The more we realize that the European solution is not moving forward, the more we have to rely on national measures," said Seehofer, who is also premier of Bavaria, the state the vast majority of refugees use as their gateway into Germany.

Analysts say the split that has opened up in Merkel's political bloc is one of the key factors behind the slide in support for the CDU/CSU in opinion polls since the refugee crisis emerged last September.

Seehofer conceded, however, after Merkel's TV interview that there was little chance of her changing course ahead of Monday's summit with Davutoglu.

Turkey plays a pivotal role in Merkel's so-called European solution to the influx of refugees, which also includes strengthening Europe's external borders along with sharing the burden of asylum seekers across the EU's 28 member states.

The chancellor wants Ankara to take steps to improve conditions in Turkey so as to encourage refugees to stay in that country.

Merkel has promised a "drastic reduction" in the numbers of asylum seekers entering Germany this year after about 1 million refugees arrived in the nation last year mainly fleeing wars in the Middle East and Africa.

However, despite Turkey and the EU having reached an agreement three months ago on measures to curb the number of refugees, neither side has fully implemented the accord.

And while Merkel spoke during Sunday's interview, tensions were escalating on the Greek-Macedonian border where about 25,000 refugees are stranded.

The bottleneck has emerged after border restrictions and limits on arrival numbers were imposed by other countries along the so-called Balkan route, which asylum seekers use as their path to northern Europe.

The chancellor said Europe had to ensure that debt-stricken Greece, which the EU helped to bail out last year, did not slide into "chaos" by sealing off European borders to refugees.

A year ago, Merkel was on a collision course with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' hard-left government over its opposition to fiscal austerity.

But on Sunday Merkel said she was in regular contact with Tsipras in an attempt to end the bottleneck on Greece's border with Macedonia.

Last update: Mon, 29/02/2016 - 19:15

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