Germany pushes for bilateral deals on migration

BRUSSELS: Germany was pushing for agreements between individual European Union member states to move the bloc forward on its long-standing debate over how to solve the issue of migration as leaders of 16 EU countries met on Sunday for an extraordinary summit.
Recent disputes in Germany and Italy have brought the bitter debate on migration and asylum policy — which the EU has been trying to overhaul since the 2015 migrant crisis — back into focus in Europe.
The mini-summit on migration, which European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker described as an “informal working meeting,” comes ahead of a crucial summit with all EU leaders scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she did not expect a “total solution to the problem of migration” to be found at a summit of all EU leaders next week.
“That is why it’s about [finding] bilateral or trilateral agreements that are mutually beneficial,” Merkel said.
She said this way countries wouldn’t “always have to wait for all 28 “to find a solution, including for the issue of the secondary movement of asylum seekers within the bloc.
“This search for a modus vivendi and, at the same time working towards a common European foundation, that is the focus today,” she said.
The summit was taking place against the backdrop of Merkel’s domestic woes, as she is being challenged over her efforts to find European solutions to the migration issue, with her interior minister and long-time ally, Horst Seehofer, threatening to close the border to new arrivals.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel insisted, however, that the meeting was “not about the survival of a chancellor,” he said.
“It’s about finding a solution for the future of — a hopefully joint — asylum and migration policy in Europe,” he said. “It’s not about whether Merkel remains chancellor next week or not.”
Besides the political situation in Germany, the migration issue burst into the forefront of the political discourse again after a new Italian government took office recently.
Italy closed its ports last week to a boat carrying more than 600 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Sunday that Italy wanted “radical change” to the EU migration policy.
The Dublin rule, according to which migrants must apply for asylum in the EU country that they first entered, should be completely overhauled, he said.
With a new proposal Conte called the “European Multilevel Strategy for Migration”, Italy “wants to tackle the problem in a structured way, because that is what public opinion is telling us.” Under the 10-point proposal, seen by this agency, migrants should not even arrive in Europe, which would make movement of asylum seekers within the EU “incidental.”
“The secondary movements can thus be the subject of technical agreements between the most interested countries,” the proposal said.
In cooperation with the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration, refugee protection centres in transit countries should be set up to examine asylum applications there.
Italy also proposed stepping up the protection of external borders of the EU. Those rescued at sea should be distributed to reception centres throughout the EU.
“We cannot bring everyone to Italy or Spain,” the paper said.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the EU must stick to its values, including the respect for human rights, when tackling the issue of migration, noting that illegal migration must be fought in a ‘‘humane and methodical way.”
“We have values: They have shaped us, and every time we betrayed them, we created something worse,” Macron said.
Leaders of the so-called Visegrad group countries — Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — did not attend the meeting.
All four Visegrad countries fiercely oppose the EU scheme from 2015 to redistribute asylum seekers across the bloc. — dpa