Wolfgang Schaeuble.jpg
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble
Photograph: EPA/LAURENT GILLIERON

EU countries should spend billions of euros to build up crisis countries in order to reduce the flow of refugees to Europe, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said the effort could be modelled on the US Marshall Plan, implemented after World War II, in which Washington spent more than 12 billion dollars to support Western Europe's post-war reconstruction.

"What is most important is for us to invest billions into those regions from which the refugees come to reduce the pressure on the external frontiers" of Europe, Schaeuble said in a public discussion with several EU Prime Ministers.

"That will cost Europe much more than we thought," he added.

Germany's governing coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel is under maximum pressure to reduce the ongoing influx of migrants into the country, which peaked in 2015 when 1.1 million people entered mostly through its southern border.

Merkel is clinging to her policy of keeping Germany open, arguing that fighting the root causes of migration - not border closures - will alleviate the crisis.

The other Davos panelists, including Premiers Mark Rutte from the Netherlands, France's Manuel Valls and Greece's Alexis Tsipras, did not react to Schaeuble's comments.

Rutte, whose country currently presides over the European Union, said the goal of the EU over the next weeks must be to improve cooperation with Turkey to stem the inflow of migrants to Greece, to set up hot spot reception centres at external EU borders and to implement the planned relocation of refugees across the bloc.

The European leaders' discussion at Davos came as Macedonia reopened the border with Greece to migrants Thursday morning after blocking their passage for more than 24 hours, Greek state radio quoted police as saying.

But Macedonian police said they would only allow entry to those who qualify as refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and who declared intent to seek asylum in Austria or Germany.

Macedonia's new condition for migrant passage was imposed after Austria announced Wednesday it would limit the total migration inflow in 2016 to 37,500 asylum seekers.

The rule that only asylum seekers bound for Austria and Germany may pass has been proposed or adopted by Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia - countries further down the Balkan migration route.

All countries on the route began filtering migrants in November, separating those originating from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan from those considered economic migrants from other countries.

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