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Refugee Crisis Is A Hot-Button Issue For EU Voters


The far-right candidate for president lost last Sunday's election in Austria - but just barely. It illustrates how much ground the far-right has gained in Europe - in part, a reaction to the recent surge of migrants. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been by far the most welcoming European leader. But she's now seeing a backlash.

For one view of all of this, we called on a prominent member of Merkel's party, Norbert Rottgen. He is chairman of the German Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. Good morning.

NORBERT ROTTGEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Now, I want to start this conversation, in fact, with your neighbor, Austria, which has just had an election this week - narrowly avoided electing the European Union's - or what would have been - first far-right head of state. What does that say to Germany and to, perhaps, the rest of the EU?

ROTTGEN: Perhaps, let me firstly state - we have to be honest to ourselves. We have a kind of recrudescence of far-right policies, far-right politicians. So there is a symptom of dissatisfaction, of alienation. And we have to take this serious - and to try to draw our lessons from that.

MONTAGNE: But may I ask what main lessons you all are drawing from that?

ROTTGEN: That we have to be more outspoken, more clear in - what is the position of the political center? - and that we have European challenges, which only can be resolved by European collective answers - and that nationalism is not an answer to our problems.

MONTAGNE: Well, your own party, the Christian Democratic Union - center-right mainstream party - the party of Chancellor Merkel. It's facing a huge backlash against her open-door policy that has allowed in about a million migrants. Initially, it seemed to bring Europe together. But it seems, now, quite the opposite. It seems to be putting a divide in Europe.

ROTTGEN: Yeah. I cannot contradict. Of course, we do have a consensus in Europe. But we have this situation. And now we have the refugees in Germany. And we have recognized that this is a European challenge. So we have to create an awareness for the necessity of a European answer.

But so far, we do not have that. And for that reason, it is not the problem of Angela Merkel. But Angela Merkel has taken decisive leadership to forge a European response to this new, historic situation we are facing. And we are struggling with that.

MONTAGNE: Which brings us to the U.S. election. How carefully are German leaders following this U.S. election? - I imagine pretty closely. I'm curious about what the conversation is.

ROTTGEN: Probably as close as never before - we see Donald Trump, who seems to be very unpredictable in his foreign and security policy. Or when he's outspoken, he questions the validity of the international institution shared by the Europeans and the Americans.

And to put into question the validity of NATO, for example, or the Transatlantic Corporation is, in our views, not a step which should even be considered because it would not make the world a better place.

MONTAGNE: Norbert Rottgen is a member of Germany's Parliament. He's head of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you very much for joining us.

ROTTGEN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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