Minister to EU: stem tide of Balkan asylum seekers
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich called for stricter rules for asylum seekers from Serbia and Macedonia on Thursday, and demanded that the European Union stem the current tide by increasing aid to Eastern Europe.
In comments published ahead of Thursday's meeting of EU interior ministers, Friedrich said the EU "could offer Serbia and Macedonia adequate aid," adding that if this did not resolve the problem, current visa-free travel would be lifted in line with decisions taken in the European Council.
Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia were granted visa-free status by the EU in December 2009, thereby allowing their citizens to travel. Several EU nations, especially Sweden, Belgium and Germany have received a flood of asylum seekers from Balkan countries in recent years, unhampered in the passport-free Schengen zone.
Two weeks ago, Friedrich demanded the visa-free regime for Serbia and Macedonia be suspended because the number of immigrants to Germany from these countries had risen so sharply.
Friedrich's comments were backed by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who shares the German minister's concern about a rush of asylum seekers from Balkan countries stretching western European resources.
"Our two countries have been subject to a worrisome trend: a flood of asylum seekers from countries which have recently benefited from an easing of visa rules," Valls told France's Le Figaro and German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Valls complained that domestic laws forced Germany and France - the economic heavyweights of the eurozone - to house and feed the asylum seekers "even though it's almost certain that their demand will be rejected. This problem should be met with a European response," he said.
Friedrich called for stricter rules for asylum seekers from Balkan countries and that the asylum application process be sped up.
"Those who come from a stable country of origin should in future receive lowered cash benefits," Friedrich told Die Welt newspaper on Thursday. Meanwhile, applications should be processed "within the shortest possible time."
In a separate interview on German broadcaster ARD, Friedrich said both Serbia and Macedonia had to better integrate their sizeable Roma population into the mainstream.
"If they want to belong to Europe, they must cooperate on who ultimately takes care of these people," he said. "They have to do things so that these people don't feel discriminated against."