Merkel still seeking European solution on migration: spokesman

Glen Norman
June 28, 2018

The Sunday talks are unlikely to produce new solutions and the European Union will go on pushing to curb arrivals even though working with countries from where numerous migrants set out on their journey, like Tunisia or Niger is complicated, slow and costly.

The meeting was called last week to clear the air before a scheduled full summit on Thursday and Friday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is battling a domestic political crisis with her coalition partners over migration, played down hopes that a full European Union summit starting on Thursday will clinch any comprehensive agreement on how to deal with migration and refugees.

New arrivals of migrants and asylum-seekers coming to Europe via the Mediterranean have dropped by more than half this year compared with the same period in 2017, according to the United Nations migration agency: 40,944 people as of Wednesday.

"Reception and identification centers should be set up.", Italy's anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on a visit to Libya, the departure point for most migrants trying to reach Europe by sea.

But he has also had an uncompromising approach to migration, toughening checks at France's Riviera border with Italy and refusing to accept a ship filled with rescued migrants after Italy's new leaders turned it away earlier this month.

Merkel stressed that European countries wouldn't be left alone in dealing with "primary migration" while others were left responsible for migration within the bloc.

Seehofer, along with Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, has put pressure on Merkel as they have embraced more right-wing and populist platform policies on migration ahead of the Bavarian election later this year where the party now polls at around 40 percent, putting their current majority in jeopardy.

Now facing a political crisis, Merkel's new hard-line interior minister Horst Seehofer has given her until the end of June to find a European deal to curb new arrivals.

The rhetoric ahead of the Sunday summit extended north, with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz saying his country would reintroduce controls on its border with Italy if neighboring Germany were to turn back migrants at its border to Austria.

European Union leaders last December had set the end of June as a deadline to reform the rules by establishing a permanent mechanism to distribute asylum-seekers throughout the bloc - but an agreement has proved elusive.

Merkel instead is pushing for bilateral and trilateral deals to cope with short-term migration and refugee pressures.

During a surprise visit to Libya on Monday, Salvini called for processing centres to be set up in various unnamed African countries to deal with potential migrants in a move "to help Libya as well as Italy block migration".

France's human rights ombudsman Jacques Toubon also criticized the French response to the Aquarius crisis, telling the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that the migrants should have been allowed to enter the country.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the negotiations held at the European Commission didn't yield any results. The leaders are also to discuss proposals for centres in countries outside the bloc to separate genuine war refugees from economic migrants, who can then be sent home.

One of the key accomplishments of the EU is the Schengen free travel zone and some fear that closing internal borders between EU nations to keep migrants out would undermine that cornerstone of EU cooperation.

"In this situation you can't wait", he said.

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