An ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed to set up refugee centers at the countries borders where refugees will be processed straight away - with the knowledge of the chancellor, as Handelsblatt has learned.
In a move designed to appease critics in Ms. Merkel's own party, who say she has lost control of the number of refugees arriving in Germany, the chancellor's office has conditionally approved a plan proposed by Julia Klöckner, the vice chairman of the Christian Democrats.
Under the plan, the German government will set up centers at the country's borders to register refugees and conduct health checks. Officials will decide straight away whether to settle or deport them. At the moment, between 100 to 200 refugees are turned away at the border daily, according to the interior ministry.
The chancellor's office agreed to Ms. Klöckner's plan under the condition that there's no mention of "border controls." Ms. Merkel has repeatedly rejected calls to follow the lead of other European countries and introduce border controls to slow the refugee influx.
Plan A2, as it's been dubbed by Christian Democrats, helps Ms. Merkel save face politically. Ms. Klöckner insists that it is a supplement, not a replacement, of existing policies. Hence plan A2: calling it plan B would imply that plan A has failed.
Semantics aside, the chancellor's critics view the plan as a major step forward.
An upper limit can function only if the borders are hermetically sealed. Katrin Göring-Eckardt, Green Party parliamentary leader
"It's doesn't matter whether the plan is called B or A2," Carsten Linnemann, the head of the Christian Democratic small business coalition, told the German Press Agency. "The main point is that we're finally adopting national measures."
“We support the proposals of the deputy party head Julia Klöckner,” said Horst Seehofer, Bavaria’s state premier and head of the conservative CSU, a major ally of Ms. Merkel’s CDU party. “These are basically positions that the CSU has espoused for months.”
Ms. Merkel has been unsuccessfully pushing for a European solution to the crisis, in which all 28 E.U. member states would adopt binding refugee quotas.
Under Plan A2, Germany would select contingents of refugees from its border centers as well as the reception centers in other E.U. countries. These refugees would then be settled in German communities that have space and resources available.
The vice chairman of the Social Democrats, Ralf Stegner, said the plan was an expression of "pure panic" on the part of Christian Democrats, whose poll numbers have been dropping due to public dissatisfaction over Ms. Merkel's refugee policy.
"In truth, it's nothing more than an anti-Merkel plan that's supposed to cover up the chaos among the Christian Democrats and the dissatisfaction with the chancellor," Mr. Stegner said.
Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who leads the Green Party's parliamentary faction, slammed the new plan as an attempt to place a cap on the number of asylum-seekers.
"An upper limit can function only if the borders are hermetically sealed," Ms. Göring-Eckardt told Handelsblatt. She warned that such a move could cause instability along the Balkan route used by refugees and threaten European unity.
Ms. Merkel has consistently opposed placing an upper limit on the number of asylum seekers, arguing that such a proposal would violate Germany's constitution, which guarantees a right to political asylum.
The new plan A2 would certainly put new strain on Germany's budget.
In 2015, the country had a budget surplus of €12 billion ($12.9 billion). Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble planned to use those funds to help cover the costs associated with refugee requests.
Half of the surplus has already been earmarked to help the German states and the labor ministry integrate refugees among other projects. But the requests for funding keep coming in and some finance ministry officials question whether anything will be left of the other half of the surplus.
"Really every minister has an idea of why they need money for the refugee crisis," a finance ministry official told Handelsblatt on the condition of anonymity.
Social Democratic cabinet ministers have made many of the requests. Justice Minister Heiko Maas has asked for an additional 19,000 police through 2016. Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks wants €5 billion to build additional housing.
"The €6-billion reserve in the budget has triggered a host of additional funding requests by the Social Democrats for the integration of refugees and asylum seekers," said Eckhardt Rehberg, the Christian Democrats' chief budget expert.
"When you count up all of the requests that have been made by the Social Democrats over the previous days, you can only come to the conclusion that they are no longer interested in a budget that's fair for all generations by not creating more debt," Mr. Rehberg said.
Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who leads the center-left Social Democrats, has already questioned whether or not a balance budget will be possible under current conditions. The party's budget expert, Johannes Kahrs, warned against cutting corners when it comes to funding the integration of refugees.
"We all have the goal of not creating any new debt," Mr. Kahrs said. Though not all the budget requests should be granted, the refugee crisis should take priority, the budget expert said.
It's not just Social Democrats who see a need for increased spending. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has supported additional expenditures on securing the European Union's external border as well as the €3 billion in aid granted to Turkey. According to Mr. Schäuble, Germany will probably have to make even greater contributions to stabilizing the Middle East.
Some members of the coalition government have given up on the goal of a balanced budget for 2017 altogether. The debt break is now the only spending limit, one source told Handelsblatt.
The debt break allows a deficit of €12 billion.
Thomas Sigmund is the bureau chief in Berlin, where he directs political coverage. Jan Hildebrand is deputy managing editor of Handelsblatt's Berlin office. Daniel Delhaes reports on politics, transport and airlines from Handelsblatt's Berlin office. Barbara Gillmann has covered politics for Handelsblatt in Berlin since 2002. To contact the authors: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] [email protected]