German chancellor Merkel rejects calls to drop migration pact
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday rejected calls from nationalist lawmakers for Germany to drop its support for a UN-backed agreement on migration.
Several countries - including the US, Hungary, Austria, Israel, Australia and Poland - have announced they won't back the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, set to be approved next month in Marrakech, Morocco.
Merkel told lawmakers during parliament's annual budget debate in Berlin that the pact would ensure "reasonable conditions" elsewhere that already exist in Germany, such as the right for migrants to access health services and get financial support.
"That's why it's in our national interest that the conditions around the world, for refugees on the one hand and migrants on the other, are improved," she said.
Opposition to the pact has come mainly from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, however, a number of lawmakers from Merkel's own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party have also started to question the agreement.
Health Minister Jens Spahn called recently for a broader debate about the pact and, if necessary, for a delay in approving it. Spahn appears to be trailing other high-profile candidates in a bid to succeed Merkel as leader of her CDU party next month.
One of the leading contenders, Friedrich Merz, called Wednesday night for a clarification that the UN pact won't create any new grounds for asylum "through the back door."
At an event in eastern Germany with the other candidates, Merz also advocated a wider discussion on how the right to asylum in Germany is defined.
Merkel, who has announced she won't run for a fifth term in 2021, said the migration pact is an example of the way in which global problems can only be solved through international cooperation.
Amid a rise in nationalist sentiment around the world, Merkel has become one of the most vocal defenders of multilateralism, frequently noting that Germany owes its revival after World War II to institutions such as the European Union and UN.
Presenting her government's 356 billion-euro ($407 billion) budget for 2019, Merkel cited plans to invest more in care for children and the elderly, improve integration of migrants, raise pension levels and boost renewable energy.
AfD's co-leader, Alice Weidel, earlier accused Merkel's government of spending "without thinking about tomorrow."
Weidel used much of her speech to defend her party over its receipt of foreign donations and accuse rivals of having similarly dubious sources of income.
Merkel didn't respond to Weidel's comments about party funding.