Merkel's coalition ally urges multi-billion-euro package to integrate refugees in Germany

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 18, 2016 10:17 AM

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany needs to raise spending on police, education and daycare by at least 5 billion euros ($5.45 billion) to successfully integrate a record number of asylum seekers and avoid social tensions, its deputy government leader said on Monday.

Europe's most populous country and largest economy has borne the main brunt of the biggest refugee influx into the continent since World War Two. Some 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived in the country in 2015, far more than in any other EU state.

Speaking after a meeting of senior Social Democrats (SPD), the coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said Berlin must avoid social strife in light of the rising numbers of mainly Muslim refugees.

"We can only manage the double task of integration, namely accommodating the new arrivals and also preserving the cohesion of our society, if we have a strong state capable of acting," said Gabriel, SPD party leader and economy minister.

He called for a joint effort by the federal and state governments as well as municipalities to share the task of integrating the hundreds of thousands of refugees whose asylum applications are approved.

"We need an additional 9,000 police in Germany, 25,000 new teachers and 15,000 daycare workers," Gabriel said. He also called for a doubling of funds for public housing to avoid a shortage of affordable housing in urban areas.

"The costs for this integration package are around five billion euros and government, federal states and municipalities have to agree on who exactly will do what."

His proposal is likely to be approved at a planned summit of federal and state governments in the coming months.

The initiative arose in part from outrage over sexual attacks on women by migrants in Cologne on New Year's Eve that deepened doubts about Germany's open-door refugee policy.

Gabriel warned that politicians should be careful that citizens do not get the impression they have been left alone with the burden of integrating refugees.

With reference to Merkel's mantra about Germany's approach to refugees, he said: "We should not only express this saying, 'We can do this', but also create the right conditions for it. Otherwise, the sentence 'We can do this' can become the sentence 'You can do this' - and I think we should not leave society alone with that."

If need be, the government should skip its goal of achieving a balanced budget in 2016 again, Gabriel said.

"It shouldn't be allowed to become dogma when it comes to whether we have enough money for the police, for prosecutors, for teachers, for daycare centers and building new apartments."

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wants to avoid taking on new debt also in 2016, but he has already signaled that this may be difficult due to the ballooning refugee costs.

Last year, Germany achieved a budget surplus of 12.1 billion euros and the larger-than-expected windfall will be used to pay for accommodating and integrating refugees.

($1 = 0.9179 euros)

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber and Caroline Copley; Editing by Mark Heinrich)