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Posts tagged ‘United Land of Germany’

Germany presents new, more restrictive migration plan

July 10, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s top security official on Tuesday unveiled his new plan on controlling and limiting migration, which he called a “turning point” in the country’s asylum policy. The main goals of the 63-point “migration master plan” include the quick deportation of people living in Germany whose asylum applications have been rejected, who already registered for asylum in another European country or who have a criminal record, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters in Berlin.

Seehofer, who has long pushed Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a harder line against migrants, said the new plan also envisions placing all asylum-seekers in big centers to have their applications processed there. Asylum-seekers currently are mostly distributed to small asylum homes across the country, though some states have already introduced centers where hundreds of applicants need to stay for months while awaiting decisions.

The new plan also foresees that asylum applicants who previously registered in another EU country will be taken directly back to where they first entered the EU — primarily Greece and Italy. That issue had led to a clash between Seehofer and Merkel, who repeatedly insisted that Germany shouldn’t act unilaterally by sending back asylum seekers to other European countries that would then have to bear the biggest burden of the influx. The controversy ended last week with a compromise in which Germany will have to make agreements with affected countries before sending back asylum seekers there.

“We prefer European solutions, but national solutions are not necessarily superfluous,” Seehofer said. More than 1 million migrants entered Germany in 2015-2015, most of them from war-torn countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. While they initially received a friendly welcome in the country, the mood has turned and led to a backlash against migrants and helped fuel the rise of the nationalist Alternative for Germany. In the last two years, however, the numbers of newly arriving migrants in Germany have gone down sharply.

Seehofer’s office reported Tuesday that the country saw a 16.4-percent decline in asylum applications in the first half of 2018 over the same period last year. There were 93,316 formal applications from January through June, 18,300 fewer than in the first half of 2017. The largest group seeking asylum was from Syria, with 22,520 applications, followed by Iraq with 9,015 applications and Afghanistan with 6,222.

In the first six months, German authorities decided on 125,190 applications, down nearly 70 percent from the same period of 2017, an indication that the backlog of cases is starting to be cleared. About 40,000 people were granted asylum or related protection, 45,000 were rejected and 40,000 cases were otherwise resolved, such as being withdrawn or sent to another European country for review.


Hundreds march in Berlin to demand an end to using coal

June 24, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Hundreds of protesters are marching through the German capital to demand an end to burning coal to produce electricity. The demonstrators — many of them families pushing strollers, people on bikes and samba bands — walked through the Berlin’s government district on Sunday ahead of next week’s first meeting of Germany’s commission on exiting coal use.

Germany has invested a lot in renewable energy but still heavily relies on coal, which creates harmful carbon emissions when burnt. About 22 percent of Germany’s electricity comes from burning soft lignite coal — and a further 12 percent from hard coal — while some 33 percent is now generated using renewable energy.

Last week, Germany’s environment minister said the country will likely miss its goal of cutting emissions by 40 percent by 2020.

Merkel, allies avert collision for now in German migrant row

June 18, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s allies in Bavaria averted an immediate collision Monday with the German leader, giving her two weeks to make deals on migrants with other European countries instead of turning them back unilaterally at Germany’s border.

In her fourth term at the helm of Europe’s largest economy, Merkel made it clear that she has no intention of being pushed around after an internal power struggle over immigration escalated into a threat to her government.

She said she would report back July 1 on the results of her negotiations, and that as far as she’s concerned it’s not yet clear what will happen if there’s no European deal on the divisive topic. Her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, has been calling for Germany to turn back migrants at the border who have previously applied for asylum or registered as asylum-seekers in other European countries.

Merkel opposes such unilateral action, arguing that it would increase pressure on Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece and weaken the entire 28-nation European Union. Seehofer heads the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, the sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. The CSU is determined to show that it’s tough on migration, arguing that this is the best way to cut support for the anti-migration, far-right Alternative for Germany party ahead of a challenging state election in Bavaria in October.

A CSU leadership meeting Monday in Munich unanimously backed Seehofer’s plan to give Merkel until the end of the month to find a solution with other EU countries. That banished — if only for now — the specter of Seehofer pushing through his proposal in defiance of the chancellor, which would risk bringing down her government.

Asked in Berlin whether her government can work well until the end of its term in 2021 and whether she is still in full control, Merkel replied: “Yes to both.” Merkel emphasized the need for Germany’s conservative parties to stick together, but she and Seehofer may only have delayed a head-on collision.

“We think that turning people back without consultation at our borders, as a country at the heart of Europe, could lead to negative domino effects that could also hurt Germany and ultimately lead to the questioning of European unity,” Merkel said after her party’s leadership met.

Merkel said she would hold bilateral agreement talks during a June 28-29 EU summit. Her party will consider the results on July 1 “and decide how to proceed in light of what has been achieved,” she said.

It wasn’t immediately clear what she might offer other countries in the talks. Merkel said she will have to discuss “what is important for others; I can’t say today what that is.” Hours later, Merkel met in Berlin with Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, the head of a new, populist government whose interior minister has pledged to deport tens of thousands of migrants.

The German leader noted that both Italy and Germany have been disproportionately affected by recent mass migration to Europe, where Italy is often the point of entry for new arrivals and Germany the hoped-for destination.

Merkel said European nations needed to work harder to help Libya and other points of departure to provide for refugees so they don’t attempt the perilous trip across the Mediterranean Sea. She also called for doing more to stop human smugglers.

“We want to support Italy’s desire for solidarity, and also hope that Germany receives understanding when it comes to the question of European solidarity on the question of migration,” she said. Saying he appreciated Merkel’s acknowledgment of Italy’s situation, Conte reiterated his view that EU accords that link asylum-seekers to the first country they reach should be replaced.

The Italian government is proposing so-called “hotspots” in migrants’ countries of origin or transit to prescreen asylum candidates before they set out for Europe. Such an approach, Conte said, would reflect more of a shared view of the challenge and less of what he said was the prevailing attitude now that “he who sets foot in Italy sets foot in Europe.”

In Munich, Seehofer said his party would be happy to see European or bilateral solutions this month that “achieve the same that we can achieve by turning people back at the border.” “We wish the chancellor success in this,” he said. “But we stand by our position that, if this does not succeed, turning people back immediately at the border must be possible.”

Seehofer said he told fellow leaders that “we’re not out of the woods yet.” He said he would go ahead with preparations to block some asylum-seekers at the border in case Merkel’s negotiations on getting other countries to take back migrants don’t bear fruit.

The spat over immigration has laid bare the deep tensions in a fractious German government that took office only in March, after nearly six months of postelection haggling. The two conservative parties govern Germany in a coalition with the center-left Social Democrats.

Seehofer and Merkel have long had an awkward relationship. In his previous job as Bavarian governor, Seehofer was one of the leading critics of Merkel’s decision in 2015 to leave Germany’s borders open as migrants streamed across the Balkans.

Most first arrived in Bavaria, which borders Austria. More than 1 million migrants came to Germany in 2015 and 2016, though the number of new arrivals has since dropped sharply. In Brussels, the EU asylum office said Monday the number of people applying for international protection in Europe plunged last year but remains higher than before 2015, when more than 1 million migrants entered, many fleeing the war in Syria.

The office said 728,470 application requests were made for international protection in 2017, compared to almost 1.3 million applications the previous year. Around 30 percent came from conflict-torn countries such as Syria and Iraq.

David Rising in Berlin and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this story.

Merkel ally: Bavarian governor acting like ‘bonsai Trump’

June 15, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — A spat within the German government over migration turned to name-calling Friday, with one ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel accusing another of acting like a “bonsai Trump” by threatening to turn some refugees back at the border.

The dispute has raised questions over Merkel’s future, as nationalist forces already in power elsewhere in Europe turn up the heat on the long-serving German chancellor for her welcoming stance toward migrants.

Among Merkel’s sharpest critics is Bavaria’s governor Markus Soeder, whose Christian Social Union is taking an increasingly hard line ahead of state elections this fall even though it forms part of the governing coalition at the national level.

Soeder and his party colleague Horst Seehofer — Germany’s interior minister — want to send police to the border to turn back migrants who have registered as refugees in other European countries. Merkel has warned that such a move could shift the burden onto countries such as Italy and Greece that have struggled to cope with the influx of migrants coming across the Mediterranean.

“Mr. Soeder is behaving like a bonsai Trump,” said Andrea Nahles, the leader of Germany’s center-left Social Democrats, referring to the U.S. president’s anti-immigration stance. Nahles said her party, which is also a member of the governing coalition in Berlin, backs Merkel’s call for a Europe-wide consensus on how to tackle the issue of irregular migration.

“We won’t allow the panic of the (Bavarian) state government to take all of Germany and Europe hostage,” said Nahles. Soeder says his party, which is fearful of losing voters to the far-right Alternative for Germany in the Bavarian election on Oct. 14, wants to “put the needs of our population center-stage.”

His words echo those of populist politicians in other European countries such as Austria, Britain and Italy, where fear of migrants has tilted politics to the right in recent years. Commentators in Germany have noted that the spat is one of the biggest crises for Merkel, who was recently elected for a fourth term with only a narrow majority.

Wolfgang Bosbach, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told broadcaster n-tv on Friday that some in her party side with Soeder on the issue. The German government has already imposed numerous measures to reduce the influx of refugees since 2015, when the number of migrants coming to Germany peaked follow Merkel’s decision not to close the border to people coming through Hungary and Austria.

The country of some 80 million now sees about 11,000 new asylum-seekers per month. Germany’s finance minister, a Social Democrat, seemed to suggest that further intrigue within the coalition could end in a bloodbath.

“The task of governing our country isn’t an episode of Game of Thrones, but a serious matter,” Ola Scholz said on Twitter. “All those involved should never forget this.”

How Germany is turning wasteland into vast lakeside resorts

June 14, 2018

GROSSRAESCHEN, Germany (AP) — As the sun beats down on a small vineyard by the rippling waters of Grossraeschen Lake, there’s little sign of the vast wound that lies beneath. Meuro, the brown-black mine that once dominated the landscape, providing jobs to thousands of workers who toiled in clouds of lignite coal dust, has vanished. Only a floating excavator plucking sunken trees out of the water hints at the effort that’s gone into reshaping this corner of eastern Germany over the past decades.

It’s part of a massive environmental cleanup in Lusatia, a region that provided much of the coal that heated German homes and powered the country’s industrial rise. Unlike its darker variety, lignite seams — also known as brown coal — often lie close to the surface, meaning it is easiest to just remove layer upon layer from above rather than dig underground shafts.

“This is a region that was shaped by strip mining for hundreds of years,” said Kathrin Winkler, a native of Lusatia. “No grain of dirt was left on top of the other.” As a young woman growing up in communist East Germany, Winkler worked in the Meuro mine for a year. Now it’s her job to promote Lusatia’s lakes as the next big tourist destination, a tranquil retreat for weary city dwellers from nearby Berlin and Dresden.

The idea would have seemed outlandish to anyone looking at the alien, lifeless landscape not so long ago. But over the past two decades the man-made craters have been slowly re-sculpted to create 26 lakes connected by 13 canals and hundreds of miles of cycle track. Instead of coal-fired power plants, the horizons are now dotted with wind turbines and fields full of solar panels. While about 22 percent of Germany’s electricity still comes from burning lignite — and a further 12 percent from hard coal — some 33 percent is now generated using renewable energy.

At its peak three decades ago, Lusatia’s coal industry provided more than 90,000 jobs. Now, the region only has a few thousand workers at four mines operated by a private company, including the Welzow-South pit that supplies the ‘Black Pump’ power station about 20 kilometers (15 miles) east of Grossraeschen.

Helmut Franz, who used to work in the Welzow-South pit, said miners support the work that’s being done to restore the sites. “People have been trying to figure out for generations how to heal the wounds,” said Franz, who now chairs the Senftenberg mining heritage association. “We think it’s a positive thing that the countryside is being reshaped after the end of mining.”

Much of the task of turning brownfield sites into the kind of “blooming landscapes” promised shortly before reunification to East Germans by West Germany’s late chancellor, Helmut Kohl, has now fallen to a state-owned company, LMBV. So far it has spent 10.6 billion euros ($12.5 billion) removing the legacy of industry and creating 25,000 hectares (61,775 acres) of lakes.

“You could say that it’s the biggest landscape reconstruction in Europe that we’re operating,” said Uwe Steinhuber, the public face of LMBV. “There’s no script for this job.” While countries such as the United States also require companies to restore mines and Spain’s biggest lake is currently being created in a former lignite pit, LMBV’s effort to develop an entire new lake district clean enough for tourism is one of the most ambitious projects yet — attracting attention from as far afield as the U.S., China and South Africa.

One of the challenges is ensuring that the lakes, which start out having the acidity of vinegar due to minerals churned up by mining, are made safe for animals and people. This is done by flushing the lakes with river water or by pouring in limestone to raise the pH-level.

Another problem is the risk of subsidence. Because the earth hauled out of the pits over decades was simply dumped elsewhere, it is very loose. A dramatic and unexpected landslide in 2010 prompted LMBV to re-examine the entire region.

“Many areas that had been considered safe until then were re-classed as unsafe,” said engineer Soeren Albinus. Creating a string of new lakes has an added benefit — allowing authorities to plan for the potential impacts of climate change on water levels in this part of Germany. Cities such as Berlin depend on water that flows through Lusatia and the lakes are being designed to act as buffer — storing water in times of plenty and releasing it when there’s a drought.

The region has become a giant laboratory for geologists, economist and biologists. Wary of the artificial landscape created for tourism, environmental groups have purchased some stretches of land and let nature take its course. Animals and plants that have been driven from much of Europe’s intensively farmed landscapes, including wolves, the Eurasian hoopoe bird and a plant called great horsetail, are reclaiming areas that were considered dead just a few years ago.

Back in Grossraeschen, tourism chief Winkler shows off the new marina awaiting its first sailboats. If all goes to plan, the water will rise by another foot (30 centimeters) in the coming months so the lake can be officially opened for business.

Authorities hope to increase the number of overnight stays from the current 600,000 annually to some 1.5 million in the coming years, boosting employment in Lusatia. Young people in particular are benefiting already: the region has the lowest youth unemployment rate in all of Germany.

“It’s not just the landscape that’s changing, there’s also been a big, big change in people’s heads,” said Winkler. “We are moving away from being a former industrial region to one that’s part of the service economy.”

Some locals, she acknowledged, have yet to embrace the hospitality and openness seen, for example, in Bavaria, where tourism has long been an important part of the economy. And there’s little chance it will replace all the jobs lost in the mining industry. “It will be one important foundation, but not the only one,” she said.

Still, for a region which had areas resembling the moon and a stretch of barren sand widely referred to as “the Sahara,” Lusatia has come a long way. “The nice thing is that the pride people had for this region is returning,” said Winkler.

Volkmar Kienoel and Markus Schreiber contributed to this report.

Catalan ex-leader to leave German prison after posting bail

April 06, 2018

NEUMUENSTER, Germany (AP) — German prosecutors on Friday ordered the immediate release of ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont after he posted 75,000 euros ($92,000) bail, which will allow him to move freely in Germany pending a decision on his extradition sought by Spain.

The Schleswig prosecutor’s office said Puigdemont also provided authorities with an address in Germany where he will reside pending the decision. “No information will be provided about his current whereabouts,” prosecutors said in a statement.

Lawyers for Puigdemont had arrived at the Neumuenster prison early Friday but it wasn’t immediately clear how and when the 55-year-old would leave jail. Supporters said Puigdemont planned a news conference later Friday.

Puigdemont was detained by German police March 25 after crossing the border from Denmark. Spain is seeking his extradition for rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on Catalonia’s independence from Spain.

The state court in Schleswig ruled Thursday that Puigdemont can’t be extradited for rebellion because the equivalent German law presumes the use or threat of force sufficient to bend the will of authorities. He can still be extradited on misuse of funds charges.

The German court’s decision is a setback for the Spanish judiciary’s efforts to crack down on the separatist movement. It is also an embarrassing blow for Spain’s conservative government, which has insisted the dispute over Catalan separatism is a legal issue, not a political one, and has refused to be drawn into negotiations with Puigdemont and his supporters since October’s banned referendum.

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the government would respect the German ruling and awaited further details of it before deciding on appropriate action. She also took a swipe at the Catalan pro-independence parties, which the government accuses of flouting the Constitution and disobeying court orders, by adding that Spain is “a state that is shows its character by respecting the decisions of the courts in whatever direction that decision is made.”

German court orders Catalan ex-leader’s release on bail

April 06, 2018

BERLIN (AP) — A German court ruled Thursday that former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont can be released on bail pending a decision on his extradition to Spain, finding that the most serious accusation against him isn’t punishable under German law.

The state court in the northern town of Schleswig said it set conditions including a 75,000-euro ($92,000) payment for the 55-year-old to leave prison. It wasn’t immediately clear when he would be released, though it appeared unlikely before Friday morning.

“We will see each other tomorrow. Thank you all!” a message posted on his Twitter feed read. Puigdemont was detained on a European arrest warrant shortly after entering Germany on March 25. He was trying to drive from Finland to Belgium, where has been living since fleeing to escape arrest in Spain. He has been held at a prison in Neumuenster.

Spanish authorities accuse Puigdemont of rebellion and misuse of public funds in organizing an unauthorized referendum last year on Catalonia’s independence from Spain. German prosecutors argued earlier this week that the main charge of rebellion is equivalent to Germany’s criminal offense of treason. German law calls for prison sentences for anyone who “undertakes, by force or through threat of force” to undermine the republic’s existence or change its constitutional order.

However, the court disagreed Thursday, saying Puigdemont can’t be extradited for rebellion. It found that the accusations against Puigdemont don’t satisfy the precedents set by previous German rulings, which call for a use or threat of force sufficient to bend the will of authorities.

“Rebellion is the most serious, having the heaviest punishment. It means that if he is extradited for other things, that he can never be prosecuted for rebellion in Spain,” Puigdemont’s Belgian defense lawyer, Paul Bekaert, said.

“Again a signal has been sent to Spain’s justice system that they are going the wrong way,” he told Belgium’s VRT network. Judges will consider Puigdemont’s extradition on the less serious charge of misusing public funds, meaning that he only could face trial for that if he were returned to Spain. They said that there was no indication he could be “exposed to the danger of political persecution.”

The court said that because Puigdemont can’t extradited for rebellion he posed less of a flight risk and could be released on bail. If Puigdemont makes the bail payment and leaves prison, he can’t leave Germany without prosecutors’ approval, must inform prosecutors of every change of residence and report to police once a week, court spokeswoman Frauke Holmer said.

In response to the German court’s ruling, a Spanish official said the government in Madid respects judicial decisions “always, when it likes them and when it doesn’t.” The official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said “Spanish justice will adopt the appropriate measures in the face of these new circumstances.”

In Brussels, three fugitive allies of Puigdemont were held briefly Thursday before being conditionally released by Belgian judicial authorities to await a decision on whether they should be extradited to Spain.

Isabel Mateos, a retiree attending a protest in the Catalan town of Figueres to call for the release of jailed separatists, reacted with joy to the news. “Truth to be told, we didn’t expect it,” she said. “We are totally happy and we’ll celebrate it.”

Earlier Thursday, the Spanish National Court charged the former head of Catalonia’s regional police and other regional security officials with sedition over their role in events leading to the banned referendum on independence.

Judge Carmen Lamela said in an indictment that Mossos d’Esquadra chief Josep Lluis Trapero was part of an organized plan to seek Catalonia’s secession, which courts have forbidden because the constitution says Spain is “indivisible.”

Trapero was hailed in Catalonia as a local hero for the handling of deadly extremist attacks in and near Barcelona last summer. But he then came under severe pressure when Spanish national authorities asked his regional police force to help prevent the Oct. 1 referendum, which triggered Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Trapero was demoted when the Spanish government assumed direct rule of the region. Two other members of the regional police and an official with the regional interior department were also indicted Thursday.

Catalonia has been without a president or regional government since a regional election in December which produced a slim majority of pro-independence lawmakers in the Catalan parliament. Efforts to form a government have been hampered by internal discord within the separatist bloc and the legal challenges faced by presidential candidates.

Aritz Parra in Madrid, Raf Casert in Brussels and Renata Brito in Figueres, Spain contributed to this report.

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