Schaeuble tries to defuse German conservatives' migration row

September 15, 2016 1:58 PM EDT

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble speaks at a meeting at the lower house of parliament Bundestag on 2017 budget in Berlin, Germany, September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos


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By Paul Carrel and Michael Nienaber

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, defended Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migrant policy on Thursday and urged her conservatives to stop bickering over the issue ahead of Sunday's Berlin city vote.

A battle over migration between Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has escalated since the CDU suffered a heavy election defeat in the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern this month.

Merkel's decision a year ago to open German borders has hit her popularity and is again dominating campaigning ahead of Sunday's election in Berlin, boosting support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Germany took in around a million migrants last year - an influx that hurt Merkel and raised questions about whether she will even run for a fourth term in 2017.

"So far, there is no one in Germany who has received one euro less for his family or his children because refugees have come here," Schaeuble, Germany's longest-serving lawmaker, told television station ZDF in an interview.

Schaeuble accused the AfD of fuelling fears. "We haven't cut one euro, people are just talked into believing this," he said.

"The burqa is not the biggest problem in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern," he added of the state, where unemployment is running at 11 percent, far above the national average of just over 6 percent.

Schaeuble said the debate over migration was fuelling anxiety in Germany.

"If we manage to solve this problem, the CDU and CSU, then we will also be able to stop the rising insecurity in the population," he said.

Schaeuble, who turns 74 on Sunday, said he would stand for parliament in next year's federal election. He said his decision was not a signal that he could be a chancellor-in-waiting or that he would necessarily remain finance minister.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer has pushed for a cap of 200,000 immigrants per year. Merkel has repeatedly ruled out any such limits.

Schaeuble said a European solution to the migrant issue was needed. This involved securing the bloc's external borders, agreeing migration deals with countries like Turkey and distributing refugees across Europe.

Such a solution was taking shape, if slowly, he said.

"If I calculate a reasonable distribution across Europe, then 200,000 out of a million is not an inappropriate share for Germany, it's rather a little high," he said.

(Editing by Andrew Roche)



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