Germany’s interior minister warned on Sunday that the country could soon face a refugee influx bigger than the one it dealt with in 2015, as he sought support for his plans for an EU quota system for rescued migrants.
"We need to do more to help our European partners with controls at the EU’s external borders. We’ve left them alone for too long," Horst Seehofer told Bild newspaper. "If we don’t do this, we’ll experience a wave of refugees like in 2015 – or perhaps an even larger one.”
Mr Seehofer, a member of the conservative CSU party, was one of the most critical voices in the German government towards Angela Merkel’s decision to open the country’s borders in 2015.
But his new plan has surprised many by committing Germany to taking in a quarter of the asylum seekers that arrive in the EU via the sea crossing from North Africa to Italy. He has not committed to accept any of those entering the EU via Greece or Spain.
In a trip to Turkey and Greece which was spurred by a sharp rise in migrant crossings in the Aegean over the past year, the veteran politician said he would push for increased EU funds to be assigned to Turkey, while offering more technical support for Greece’s coast guard. An agreement signed with Ankara in 2016 was key in turning the tide on a surge of migration which saw over a million asylum seekers arrive in Germany.
Ever since the crisis peaked in 2015 Berlin has been pushing in Brussels for a binding quota system, but these efforts have foundered in the face of resistance from eastern Europe.
Mr Seehofer’s quota proposals have proven unpopular inside his own party. Ralph Brinkhaus, CDU/CSU faction leader in the Bundestag, suggested over the weekend that the plan would encourage smugglers to increase their activities.
"This is the interior minister’s initiative, it does not come from the CDU/CSU faction in the Bundestag. We will have to take a very close look at his plans," Mr Brinkhaus said.