Merkel urges German unity on migration crisis in New Year's address

The most important issue confronting Germany in 2016 is the nation's "solidarity" in dealing with the refugee crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel will say in her New Year's address to the nation on Thursday.

"It is important that we not let ourselves be divided - not among generations, and not among those who have been here a long time and those who are new citizens," says Merkel, according to an advance copy of her speech.

The chancellor asks that people not follow "those with coldness or even hate in their hearts, and claim the right to be called German for themselves alone while seeking to exclude others."

But Merkel's message belies the fact that no all members of her governing coalition are in lock-step with her attitudes towards refugees. Horst Seehofer, the head of the Bavarian-based Christian Social Union - the sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats - continues to argue that refugee numbers must be controlled.

"The year 2016 has to bring a change in our refugee policy," he said in his New Year's address, also released in advance.

Merkel's speech does not cede much to Seehofer's policies, though she does say that the goal remains to "noticeably lower the number of refugees."

Germany's Office for Migration confirmed Thursday media reports that asylum seekers would have their cases reviewed individually starting in the new year, a return to practices that were relaxed at the end of 2014 amid a rush of asylum seekers.

No specific date has been set for when the more stringent controls will go into effect. The focus will be on confirming the applicant's identity, so authorities can get a better overview of who is actually in Germany.

The regulations had been relaxed for applicants from Iraq, Syria and Eritrea.

Merkel does not mention Pegida in her speech, the anti-Islam political movement that has drawn tens of thousands to the streets of Germany in mass rallies over the past year.

As the country faces an unprecedented influx of migrants - mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia and Kosovo - there have also been several attacks on asylum shelters.

About 1 million refugees were expected to be registered in Germany in 2015.

"This is a particularly challenging time in which we live," Merkel says.

"But it is also true: We can do it, because Germany is a strong country," she continues, pointing out the nation's past success in dealing with the turmoil of reunification 25 years ago and its ability to integrate newcomers into German society.

Merkel also noted that countries on the receiving end of migration often benefit, both economically and socially.

"Handled properly, today's great challenge of the migrant inflow and integration is tomorrow's opportunity."

The message will be aired at 6 pm (1700 GMT).

Amid the debate about Germany's immigration policy, the head of the major Verdi labour union weighed in Thursday, telling dpa that one of the changes needed in light of the refugee situation is for Germany to give up its focus on balancing the federal budget.

He said the refugee crisis has made it clear how large parts of the German state are underfunded and that the only way to get finances back in order is to give up the goal of no more deficits.

"Whether its education, health care or social housing - it's only now becoming clear how massively underfinanced many parts of the public infrastructure have become," said Frank Bsirske. "The influx of refugees has been a catalyst for realizing the problem."

He noted that, given low European interest rates, borrowing can be done for almost free these days. If financed properly, Germany could even make money by refinancing existing debt at lower rates.

"Net investment - investment before write-offs - has to be done before we start thinking about the debt brake," he argued.

Last update: Sat, 02/01/2016 - 08:04
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