January 29, 2017 / 9:02 AM / 7 months ago

Germany's Schaeuble admits 'mistakes' in refugee policy

Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble arrives at a eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium, January 26, 2017.Eric Vidal

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany made mistakes with an open-door policy that saw more than a million migrants enter Germany over the past two years, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble acknowledged on Sunday, but he said Berlin was trying to learn from those missteps.

"We have tried to improve what got away from us in 2015," Schaeuble told the newspaper Welt am Sonntag. "We politicians are human; we also make mistakes. But one can at least learn from them."

Schaeuble is a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, who have lost support to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party over the migration issue, after several attacks carried out by migrants.

The AfD is now poised to become the third largest party in parliament in September national elections.

The issue has also divided the European Union, with many countries balking at taking in a proportional share of refugees.

Schaeuble said Europe needed to consider harmonising its social benefits to achieve a more equitable distribution of migrants among EU members, a subject that he said had thus far been considered "taboo" in Germany.

"We have much higher standards when it comes to social benefits than most European countries. That's why so many want to come to Germany," he told the newspaper.

Schaeuble also said he was skeptical about the leadership style of the U.S. President Donald Trump, who has sparked concerns among European leaders with executive orders on immigration, as well as his decision to cancel trade agreements.

"In America, we can now see how someone is acting as if he can do everything very quickly. That will not only have good results," he said.

A poll conducted earlier this month showed that refugee policy would be the biggest issue for voters in the September election. [nL5N1EW1C1]

Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term in office, spoke by telephone on Saturday with Trump, who has described her August 2015 decision to keep Germany's borders open to refugees, mostly from the Middle East, as a "catastrophic mistake."

In September, after a defeat for her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in a Berlin state election, Merkel said she wished she could turn back the clock on the migrant crisis, although she stopped short of saying her policy was a mistake.

Merkel has rejected calls from the CDU's Bavarian sister party to set an upper limit on migration, but is now pressing for more aggressive steps to send back migrants who are refused asylum, as well as action to prevent a similar flood of migrant from Africa.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal, editing by Larry King

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