WILDBAD KREUTH, Germany (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday she wanted to stem the flow of refugees into the European Union while at the same time keeping open borders within the bloc, days after Denmark imposed passport checks on people entering from Germany.
Merkel, who last November marked a decade in office, starts 2016 facing renewed pressure from her own conservatives to reduce the influx of asylum seekers arriving in Germany, after a record inflow of over 1 million last year sapped their support.
“It is very important to me that we achieve both a noticeable reduction in the flow of refugees ... and at the same time preserve the free movement of people within the European Union,” she told reporters at a conference of her Bavarian allies, the CSU.
This free movement, which has resulted in 26 European countries abolishing internal border controls within their ‘Schengen zone’, was “a motor for economic development and prosperity”, she said.
Germany’s northern neighbour Denmark imposed temporary border checks on Monday, fearing that it would become the final destination for many refugees after Sweden put in place controls to stop them moving further north.
Merkel was named Person of the Year by both Time magazine and the Financial Times after opening Germany’s borders to refugees in August, but the resulting wave of migrants has stretched its resources and unnerved many citizens.
The Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that a record 476,000 migrants applied for asylum last year, with the applications of another 600,000 registered migrants yet to be collected.
Despite vowing last month to reduce the numbers, Merkel is under pressure from the Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party of her Christian Democrats (CDU), to do more. CSU leader Horst Seehofer has demanded a cap of 200,000 migrants a year.The conservatives have been alarmed by a drop in their support from around 43 percent in mid-August to a three-year low of 36 percent in October and November. Support has begun picking up as Merkel has sought to stem the inflow.
Last October, she offered to help Turkey’s bid to join the European Union in return for cooperation in stemming the flow of migrants and taking back those rejected by Europe.
However, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Wednesday that a drop in arrivals in December was due to rough seas, not efforts by Turkey to prevent departures.
Merkel has resisted calls from some conservatives to close Germany’s borders or cap the number of arrivals, many of whom are fleeing war in the Middle East or Afghanistan.
She argues the influx must be tackled outside Germany, through negotiations to resolve the war in Syria, by encouraging Turkey to improve conditions for refugees there, and by convincing European partners to accept quotas of asylum seekers.
Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Kevin Liffey