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FILE PHOTO: German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, July 5, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
BERLIN (Reuters) - Social benefits for asylum seekers in Germany are "quite high" and they need to be harmonised across Europe, the country's interior minister was quoted on Saturday as saying, two weeks before a national election in which immigration is a key issue.
Thomas de Maiziere belongs to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, who are expected again to emerge as the biggest party after the Sept. 24 election despite losing some support to the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The right-wing AfD, which has tried to tap into public disquiet over Merkel's 2015 decision to open German borders to more than a million migrants, is expected to win up to 11 percent in the election and enter the federal parliament for the first time.
In an interview published in the regional newspaper Rheinische Post, de Maiziere appeared to target voters particularly concerned by the migrant influx, saying asylum procedures and benefits for asylum seekers needed to be harmonised across the 28-nation European Union.
"What we need next is a standardised asylum system in Europe and we're currently negotiating that in the EU - it can't be that the standards are so different in Romania, Finland, Portugal and Germany," he said.
"Germany is the country that most (asylum seekers) want to live in because the process and conditions for being accepted are relatively generous compared with other European countries and the benefits for refugees are quite high compared with other EU member countries," he said.
De Maiziere said a more harmonised system could involve possible subsidies for migrants to help cover higher living costs in countries such as Germany on top of a uniform amount agreed at the level of the EU.
He also called for common legal standards, saying: "Asylum seekers here can drag out their deportation significantly more than they can elsewhere using various legal paths."
(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones)