German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the refugee crisis facing Europe was testing the core ideals of universal rights at the heart of the European Union. She added that the migrant crisis presented Germany with a major challenge which would not be resolved anytime soon, and urged citizens to show flexibility and patience.
"We stand before a huge national challenge. That will be a central challenge not only for days or months but for a long period of time," Merkel said during a major press conference in Berlin, marking the end of parliament's summer break.
Renewed appeal for asylum quotas
Speaking to journalists in Berlin, Merkel also pressed for quotas to spread the migrants among more countries in the 28-nation bloc.
"If Europe fails on the question of refugees, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it won't be the Europe we wished for," she said, urging other EU members to accept their fair share of asylum seekers.
Chancellor Merkel said that Germany needed more immigrants to help fill gaps in its workforce. A new immigration law was "in the interests of Germany," Merkel said. But she added at the press conference that Europe as a whole had to move forward and that its states had to share the responsibility for refugees seeking asylum.
"There's no point in publicly calling each other names, but we must simply say that the current situation is not satisfactory," Merkel said.
Merkel said that the Schengen agreement on freedom of movement could be called into question if Europe was unable to agree on a fair distribution of refugees.
Zero tolerance for those who reject new challenges
Merkel expressed confidence that Europe would live up to the challenge, pointing to previous challenges such as the 2008 banking crisis, the 1990 reunification of Germany and to its ongoing nuclear phase-out. Germany expects to receive 800,000 asylum seekers this year - four times more than in 2014 and more than any other EU country.
"German thoroughness is great, but what we need now is German flexibility," she added.
Merkel said that the "full force of the law" would be brought down on those who insulted, attacked or launched arson attacks targeting newcomers to the country. She was referring in particular to a series of attacks against and protests outside refugee shelters in Germany.
"There will be zero tolerance for those who call into question the dignity of other people," she said. "Do not follow those who call for such demonstrations."
Chancellor Merkel stressed that despite the increased attacks against asylum seekers there were far more Germans hoping to help the refugees than those protesting against the migrants. She also sought to draw a positive from the number of refugees hoping to end up on German soil specifically.
"The entire now world looks up to Germany as a country of opportunities and hope. That wasn't always the case," Merkel said.
ss/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)