Merkel Pitches EU-Wide Migration Reform While Debate Flares at Home

By James Carstensen | June 21, 2018 | 12:28am EDT
German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts the new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Berlin on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. (Photo: Bundesregierung/Kugler)

Berlin ( – Facing calls for a tougher migration policy from a traditional ally at home, and amid growing anti-migrant sentiment elsewhere in Europe, the German chancellor is hoping next week’s European summit will see leaders agree on reforms aimed at reducing migrant flows.

The proposals advocate tightening existing regulations to limit so-called “asylum-shopping” – when asylum seekers apply in multiple countries – and bolstering E.U. border security forces with up to 10,000 more staff.

They also support enabling the reallocation of refugees to lower the burden on “frontline” states along external E.U. borders, such as Italy.

Announcing the proposal on Tuesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to present it at a summit in Brussels next Thursday at which migration will be a key topic. She has already received support from French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Macron and Merkel also signaled support for previously pitched agreements with North African countries such as Libya, under which migrants would be processed before even reaching European soil.

After meeting with Conte on Monday, Merkel said she hoped for European solidarity and support for Germany’s migration proposals.

A joint French-German statement on Tuesday, meanwhile, warned that if E.U. member-states began to take measures unilaterally, “this would end up in an overall increase of migration into Europe.”

The E.U.’s executive Commission has announced a “mini summit” this Sunday, to enable government leaders to meet informally to discuss possible solutions to the migration problem. So far, Germany, France, Italy and Austria have agreed to attend.

Merkel is under intense pressure at home, after her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, threatened to enforce German border controls against alleged asylum-shopping, should she fail to find agreement with E.U. partners at the summit.

“We support every effort to find a European solution,” Seehofer said in a statement. “In case that does not succeed, rejection at our borders must happen.”

Seehofer’s stance won significant support from his party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), a longstanding political partner of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

In the CDU itself, 11 out of 13 lawmakers also voted in favor of Seehofer’s plan during an internal debate on Monday.

Causing further turmoil for the chancellor, a recent poll has found support for her remaining in office drop by 10 points.

“I have never seen so many politicians voice their disapproval of the chancellor’s position so clearly,” Handelsblatt quoted CDU lawmaker Andreas Mattfeldt as saying.

Getting the European consensus Merkel wants is likely to be challenging.

Merkel, Macron and Conte, have all indicated they want other E.U. countries to share the burden of handling refugees, and all support quotas for migrant distribution.

But a previous E.U. migrant redistribution policy drew opposition from eastern members such as Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, which refused to take on migrants.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told lawmakers last weekend that Hungary tolerates the fact that some countries in the Schengen zone admit migrants – with consequences for Hungary and others – but “they should tolerate the fact that we do not wish to do so.”

(The Schengen agreement allows passport-free travel between 26 European countries.)

Austria is also opposed to distribution quotas, and its interior minister, Herbert Kickl, said recently he saw no “realistic chance” of a compromise being reached on quotas.

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas expressed confidence that E.U. leaders could reach an agreement in Brussels next week.

“We are very confident that we have on the table all the elements that would facilitate an agreement,” he told reporters on Monday.

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