Europe News

Germany's Steinmeier urges EU to unite on refugees, or else fail

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier addresses the Social Democrats Party (SPD) congress in Berlin, Germany, December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

BERLIN (Reuters) - The European Union must unite in its response to dealing with the huge number of refugees surging into the bloc or else it will fail, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday.

Faced with an expected influx of around one million refugees this year alone, Germany is looking to its EU partners to help manage the crisis but is running up against resistance from some countries, particularly in eastern Europe.

“Either Europe stands together and acts with solidarity in times of hardship for hundreds of thousands, or fences and barriers will again be raised,” Steinmeier said in a speech to fellow Social Democrats (SPD) at their annual party congress.

“And then the vision of a united Europe crumbles,” added Steinmeier, a former leader of the Social Democrats, who are the junior partner in Germany’s coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

He called for boldness to push ahead with the European project and “to oppose the right-wing populists.”

His comments came after France’s far-right National Front pulled off a historic win on Sunday, topping the vote in the first round of regional elections and shaking up the country’s political landscape before 2017 presidential elections.

Another leading German Social Democrat, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, also said this week that the EU is at risk of falling apart and supporters must fight to keep it.

In addition to the refugee crisis, European officials are also grappling with Britain’s demands for EU reform ahead of a referendum on its membership of the bloc.

In a blow to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s renegotiations with the 28-member bloc, Poland said on Thursday it had not yet been able to reach agreement with Britain on its push to curb welfare payments to EU migrants.

Reporting by Holger Hansen; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Tom Heneghan