Olaf Scholz and the K question: What will the consensus cost?

The federal and state governments come together for the migration summit. The pressure to reach agreement is great, as is the dispute over the financing of refugee costs. Can this work?

Olaf Scholz has set the direction: Germany must “finally” and “on a large scale” deport people, he shouted in a robust tone, with a gloomy look and media attention in the German forest of newspapers. Clear message: If you can’t stay, you have to go. “There are too many,” says the Chancellor.

It is not so clear who should primarily pay for the people who are currently seeking protection in Germany.

That will be the big question that the federal and state governments will have to address at their meeting on Monday afternoon. The “MPK” has a variety of topics on the agenda, from faster approval procedures to reducing bureaucracy. However, the focus of the discussions will be immigration and refugees, in particular the controversial financing of refugee costs.

“The question of financing is likely to remain a sticking point until the end, even though the federal government is already doing a lot,” says SPD parliamentary group vice-president Dirk Wiese star. “But here too we will be able to reach an agreement with the states – we are interested in finding pragmatic solutions together.

Translated, this means: A solution has to be found, sooner rather than later.

Chancellor under (cost) pressure

The pressure to reach agreement is great, and there is practically no alternative to consensus. Cities and municipalities have been feeling overloaded for months. Citizens’ dissatisfaction is growing, including with the traffic light coalition. While the AfD, which is partly right-wing, is gaining support. Many now see immigration to Germany as the most important problem that the government needs to address.

Scholz needs the states for this. They carry out the deportations, but are also responsible for the care and accommodation of those seeking protection. That costs money. The prime ministers feel let down by the federal government and criticize unfair distribution of the burden.

The dissent is already evident in the figures that the federal and state governments cite to support their financial efforts.

The federal states estimate their spending on “refugee-related costs” in 2023 at 17.6 billion euros. In addition, there would be 5.7 billion for the municipalities, “together around 23.3 billion euros,” it says Decision of the last round of countries from October. The federal government would relieve the states and municipalities of these costs by 3.75 billion euros this year. Next year, however, payments are to be reduced to 1.25 billion euros, the paper says.

“From the perspective of the states, this is not acceptable,” says Hesse’s Prime Minister Boris Rhein (CDU), who is chairman of the Prime Minister’s Conference. In this way, the federal government is leaving the cities and municipalities alone with their problems. The countries are therefore calling for a return to a “breathing system” that already existed during the refugee movement in 2015/16. The rough idea: The more people come, the more the federal government would have to pay. In addition, the federal government should pay a kind of capitation allowance of 10,500 euros per year per refugee.

Very close

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The federal government is currently offering 5,000 euros per refugee. The prevailing opinion in the Chancellery is that we are doing more than many people would think. Hardly any conversation with federal budget managers goes without mentioning that expenditure in connection with refugee migration is at a high level. Here (calculated benevolently) around 30 billion euros in total federal expenditure is estimated, almost 20 billion euros of which would go to states and municipalities.

A lot is already being done – this is to be understood – just for those seeking protection from Ukraine. You receive citizen’s money from the federal government. And then there should be more in it?

It can hardly be a coincidence that Finance Minister Christian Lindner never misses an opportunity to remind people of the tight state treasury and the “higher wisdom” of the debt brake – as in a guest article for “Spiegel” – and at the same time bring benefit cuts for asylum seekers into play .

But it’s not just the FDP leader who wants to put the previous cash payments to the test. The federal states also have a lot to gain from switching to benefits in kind or introducing a payment card (instead of cash). The Chancellery seems open-minded here – but it is questionable whether this also applies to the federal government’s coffers.

“Everything has been said, but not by everyone yet”

Regardless of the financing, the federal and state governments generally agree on many measures. Asylum procedures should be accelerated, obstacles to returns should be removed and access to the labor market should be made easier.

“The coalition has already introduced important measures to limit irregular migration and support the municipalities,” says SPD parliamentary group deputy Wiese. “Now we need to continue to focus on comprehensive migration agreements with countries of origin so that migration is steered in an orderly manner.”

But migration agreements, which many experts consider to be a central element in the fight against irregular migration, are not concluded quickly. The agreements are politically difficult work, as Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) recently discovered in Morocco. Last but not least, they require patience. Many people obviously lack this patience. SPD domestic politician Wiese puts it this way: “Ahead of the Prime Minister’s Conference there is currently an outbidding competition with constructive and less constructive proposals on migration policy,” he says. “According to the motto: Everything has been said, but not yet by everyone.”

The most recent example: outsourced asylum procedures. The Union and the FDP are in favor, and a trio of representatives from the SPD also want to make a proposal at the next parliamentary group meeting of the comrades. At its core, their idea is to set up migration centers in safe third countries outside of Europe. Decisions on asylum applications will then be made there. It was hoped that those seeking protection would not even make the often fatal journey across the Mediterranean.

“The idea of ​​outsourced asylum procedures is not new and was pushed by the Union’s interior ministers,” says SPD man Wiese. In fact, SPD Interior Minister Otto Schily made a similar proposal in 2004. Ten years later, his successor Thomas de Maizière from the CDU warmed up the idea again. “Asylum centers in third countries are ultimately a question of money,” Wiese dismisses, especially since there are hardly any countries that have a vested interest in this.

Which brings us back to money. A consensus between the federal and state governments depends primarily on clarification of the cost issue. The talks will not be a sure-fire success; the federal and state governments certainly agree on that.

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