Merkel Warns the Migrant Crisis Will ‘Make or Break the EU’ If European Leaders Cannot Solve the Problem During Summit Today
Julian Robinson and Reuters, Daily Mail, June 28, 2018
Angela Merkel has warned that the migrant crisis will ‘make or break the EU’ if European leaders cannot solve the problem during crunch talks today.
The German Chancellor is attending a European summit in Brussels hoping that her agreement on measures to restrict migrant arrivals will save her job.
Merkel defended her 2015 decision to open Germany’s doors to a million migrants as a necessary step of help to its neighbours — and told the Bundestag the tighter immigration controls in place before that year needed to be re-established.
‘Europe faces many challenges, but that of migration could become the make-or-break one for the EU,’ she said before setting off to Brussels where she was pictured in a bizarre dancing pose as she greeted French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
However, before the summit had even started this afternoon, Italy’s hardline new premier Giuseppe Conte threatened to block any joint EU statement.
Rome has recently refused to let several migrant rescue boats dock at Italian ports, reviving fresh tensions despite the fact that numbers of arrivals have dipped sharply since the height of Europe’s migration crisis three years ago.
Conte, who heads Italy’s month-old populist and anti-immigration government, said he would refuse to endorse the conclusions of the meeting in Brussels if fellow leaders fail to do more to help Italy.
‘Italy does not need more words, but concrete actions,’ Conte told reporters as he arrived at the summit. ‘It’s a possibility I hope not to consider, but if we reach that point, on my behalf we will not have shared conclusions.’
The EU is rapidly moving to the right on migration, a stance that is likely to strengthen when Austria under youthful conservative Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz assumes the bloc’s presidency on July 1.
Meanwhile, Merkel’s Bavarian CSU allies have given her until the end of the EU summit to reduce the burden of immigration on Germany, which has taken in 1.6 million migrants since 2014.
Otherwise, they will defy her and impose border controls, which could collapse the chancellor’s fledgling coalition.
If she fails to secure bilateral deals and show progress is being made to deal with the influx of migrants who have entered Europe, she will return to Berlin a lame duck chancellor, or possibly even out of a job.
Defending her decision to open the country’s doors to migrants in 2015, she said it was a one-off humanitarian gesture to help relieve pressure on other European nations.
Merkel told lawmakers the leaders of Austria and Hungary had personally appealed for help in 2015 as migrants streamed into their countries.
She recalled ‘we said in an exceptional situation we will help and now, as then, I think it was the right decision.’
Merkel says the situation is now changed, and that Europe needs common solutions to the issue of migrants.
She says there’s still division over issues but also unity on the need to reduce migration, stop smugglers and strengthen Europe’s outer borders.
The talks come amid growing popular discontent over immigration on the continent which has piled pressure on governments from Germany to Italy.
With populist and right-wing parties on the rise across the EU, the bloc will move to tighten its external borders and assign more money for countries in regions such as Northern Africa to prevent people from getting into Europe, according to a draft statement of the two-day talks.
But EU leaders are deeply divided over what to do with legitimate asylum seekers who make it anyway, fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. The row has split them bitterly for three years and shows no signs of abating.
Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure from her coalition partners to stem immigration to Germany, while Italy has long been overwhelmed with arrivals and the new government there rejects any moves that would see it handle more people.
At stake is EU members’ unity and trust in each other, as well as the bloc’s Schengen zone of control-free travel. Unless a pan-EU solution is found, some countries are threatening to slap border checks to fish out migrants they do not want.
That would also hit business and travel across the bloc, threatening many jobs among the EU’s half a billion people.
Leaders are also set to clash over curbing so-called secondary movements of immigrants, where people arriving in coastal states such as Italy make it to the wealthiest ones like Germany across the EU’s invisible borders.
If she is unable to get an EU-deal on that, Merkel has said she would seek bilateral accords. The one she needs with Rome would be particularly difficult to pull off.
Differences between EU leaders have played out prominently in recent days, laying the ground for what is certain to be a fraught discussion behind closed doors.
Political pressure runs high, despite the fact that sea arrivals stand at 44,000 people so far this year, according to U.N. data, a far cry from the 2015 peak when more than a million refugees and migrants got in.
In public, the 28 EU leaders will attempt a show of unity to convince their voters back home they are in control and there won’t be a repeat of 2015. Opinion polls show migration is a top concern for EU citizens.
One new idea they have is for ‘regional disembarkation platforms’ around the Mediterranean, where the EU would hold people who try the dangerous crossing, assess their asylum requests and hold those who fail before they are sent back.
There are multiple legal, security and rights-related challenges to the plan and no country outside the EU has so far been willing to host such sites, which the bloc insists would not amount to ‘camps’.
No quick decisions are expected on that, but the EU hopes the political backing for such an idea would provide enough ammunition for Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and others to take back home and stave off the challenge from those advocating an even tougher course.
The summit chairman, Donald Tusk, says the stakes are high.
‘More and more people are starting to believe that only strong-handed authority, anti-European and anti-liberal in spirit, with a tendency towards overt authoritarianism, is capable of stopping the wave of illegal migration,’ he said.
‘If people believe them, that only they can offer an effective solution to the migration crisis, they will also believe anything else they say,’ he added. ‘Time is short.’
Beyond difficult discussions on migration, the EU will try to close ranks on trade in the face of increasingly hostile policies by U.S. President Donald Trump, who introduced tariffs on EU steel and aluminium, and is now mulling the same for cars.
EU leaders will discuss security before the July 11-12 NATO summit and an EU-NATO summit before that, and are due to extend their sanctions on Russia — a theme where the reluctant Conte plays a key role again as any such decision requires unanimity.
They will discuss their next, seven-year joint budget from 2021 and push forward with some Franco-German proposals to beef up the euro zone.
They will listen as well to British Prime Minister Theresa May’s update on her Brexit plans.
On Friday, the remaining 27 leaders without May will issue a warning that divorce talks are slow, most notably on the highly-sensitive issue of the Irish border, according to the draft statement.
Countries, business and people should plan for a worst-case scenario in which Britain crashes out next March with little clarity of what comes next, they will say.