On Monday, German chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to a packed room of journalists at her annual summer press conference in Berlin. Only weeks ago, Greece had dominated the chancellor’s agenda. But Greece and its bailout drama are ancient history in Europe’s hyperspeed summer of crisis management. As autumn began, Germany’s teflon chancellor faced a much bigger and more politically dangerous crisis — that of refugees.
About 800,000 asylum seekers are expected to pour into Europe’s largest economy this year, and the way Ms. Merkel handles the crisis may end up defining her legacy and her likely bid for reelection next year.
Already, the rapid influx of men, women and children from Syria, Iraq, the Balkans and Africa — which has appeared to catch everyone in Germany and the rest of Europe by surprise — could morph into a political liability for those in power, including Ms. Merkel.
After weeks of being criticized for dilly-dallying and failing to show leadership, Ms. Merkel responded on Monday in uncharacteristically firm and decisive fashion, pledging assistance, less bureaucracy and a can-do attitude.“We stand before a huge national challenge. That will be a central challenge not only for days or months but for a long period of time,” she said.
The chancellor said Germany would rush through legislation to address the crisis, making it easier to weed out those ineligible for asylum while boosting funding to states and local government to provide more shelter for refugees.
She also called on the other E.U. countries to step up and take their fair share of refugees, a call that so far has fallen largely on deaf ears. “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” she said.
Her steely resolve was a change from recent weeks, when the chancellor was criticized for not getting ahead of an issue that has rapidly become the most important for her country, and for Europe.
Germany is facing an unprecedented crisis, Ms. Merkel said, equating the challenge of managing the refugees to what Germans faced a quarter century ago during reunification.
Every day thousands of weary people arrive in the country by train, foot and in trucks driven by people smugglers. Reception centers are struggling to keep up with dealing with all of them, saying they lack resources and personnel.
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