Scholz Seeks Response to Challenge of Rising Migrant Numbers

(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s administration will make a renewed effort to address rising numbers of refugees and other migrants as part of a bid to halt the momentum of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

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Talks due late Monday with the country’s 16 regional leaders were however delayed by more than three hours because conservative state leaders were unable to find an agreement with counterparts from Scholz’s Social Democrats on more restrictive measures.

Pressure is mounting on Scholz’s three-way coalition with the Greens and the Free Democrats. Voters are increasingly disgruntled with the government’s handling of illegal immigration as local authorities struggle to deal with the largest influx of refugees since 2015, opinion polls show.

The prospect for a breakthrough is limited, with the ruling coalition’s ability to allocate funds restricted by constitutional debt rules, as well as by a conflict between federal and state governments over the distribution of cash. That means Monday’s meeting at the chancellery in Berlin is likely to focus on strategies already implemented, like tightening checks at the country’s borders and speeding up the repatriation of rejected asylum applicants.

Scholz, who will hold a news conference Monday evening after the talks conclude, has in recent weeks called for a crackdown on illegal migration, particularly the smugglers who transport people clandestinely across Germany’s borders. His government last month approved a draft law that aims to make it easier to deport people who don’t have the right to stay in the country.

Read More: Germany Targets People Smugglers With Expanded Border Measures

The conservative CDU/CSU alliance — the main opposition group in the federal parliament, which also governs in nine of Germany’s 16 states — wants tougher measures. Among other things, they’re demanding a cap on the number of refugees allowed to enter the country and cuts to migrants’ social benefits.

Scholz has met with CDU/CSU caucus leader Friedrich Merz twice in the past few weeks in an effort to forge a bipartisan alliance on migration, though few details of their discussions have been made public.

Last week, Scholz visited the West African states of Nigeria and Ghana in order to discuss agreements which would allow Germany to send unsuccessful asylum-seekers back in exchange for more opportunities for legal immigration.

Scholz’s government has allocated about €30 billion ($32 billion) for this year to meet some of the costs related to migration, which regional and local officials argue is still much too little.

--With assistance from Chris Reiter.

(Updates with delay of talks in second paragraph)

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