BERLIN, Feb 17 (Reuters) – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Germany’s Bild daily that Europe is making progress in tackling the migrant crisis and praised Chancellor Angela Merkel for sticking to “long-sighted” policies in the face of criticism.
In an interview published on Wednesday, a day before leaders hold a closely-watched summit on the refugee crisis and on a reform deal to keep Britain in the 28-member bloc, Juncker said history would prove Merkel and her liberal refugee policy right.
Merkel is looking increasingly isolated with her demands for a fair distribution of migrants among EU members and for ensuring Turkey cooperates to stem the flow of people arriving in Europe.
Juncker told Bild that a number of individual steps would together have an effect on the crisis.
“We are at last seeing some first progress,” he told Bild, adding the number of migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey was falling. But it would take time for “all measures we have agreed in the past weeks and months in Europe to have an effect”.
He said it was the job of a head of government to stand by their policies even under pressure and suggested Merkel would outlast all her critics.
“The European migration policies she and I are pursuing will prevail. It is political strength to say we can do it. Anything else is capitulation to the populists,” he said.
Support in Germany for Merkel has dipped over her handling of the crisis, opinion polls show, although her conservative bloc is still the largest, and she also faces deep divisions in her coalition with Social Democrats and Bavarian conservatives.
Juncker even compared Merkel’s determination to press ahead with her ideas to former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl who pushed through German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
“I am thinking above all of the long-sighted reunification policy of Helmut Kohl. History has proved him right and it will prove Angela Merkel right.”