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German chancellor says migration meeting a 'first exchange'

25 June 2018

Italy, a front-line state to asylum seekers and migrants coming from northern Africa, is more focused on the initial arrivals and on avoiding what it says is an unfair burden that has been placed on it by countries to its north.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday on a visit to Lebanon that conditions in Syria are not yet right for refugees to return, an issue which has led to a dispute between Lebanon's foreign minister and the United Nations refugee agency.

This is despite a sharp decrease in migrant arrivals since their peak in 2015, when more than one million Syrian asylum-seekers and others entered the bloc. The ensuing furore engulfed much of Europe and the Aquarius was forced to take a long detour to Spain, having also been rejected by Malta.

Referring to hasty arrangements and a domestic crisis over migration policies within Germany's coalition government, the fervently anti-migrant Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, said: "We understand that countries have domestic political difficulties, but this can't result in pan-European confusion".

Merkel also got Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to attend the mini-summit by telling him pre-written conclusions had been withdrawn, Italian officials said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's agreement with French President Emmanuel Macron on euro zone reforms does not violate the coalition agreement, as some Bavarian conservatives have claimed, a top aide to the German leader said.

"A European solution means throwing more German money at things".

The comments came after Italy's new coalition of far-right and anti-establishment parties has made clear it does not want to take in more migrants and after several eastern European states said they would stay away from preliminary talks on the issue Sunday.

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"But we will always have legitimate asylum seekers who are entitled to our help".

The leaders of about 16 countries - more than half the 28-nation bloc - will take part in what is being billed as "informal talks" in Brussels, ahead of a full European Union summit on June 28-29, where migration will top the agenda.

The ex-communist states in the EU's east led by Hungary and Poland have refused to host any of the new arrivals, citing security risks after a raft of Islamist attacks in Europe.

The bloc has been unable to break that deadlock, with bad blood spilling over to other areas of cooperation, including crucial talks on the EU's next seven-year budget from 2021.

National border controls would undermine the EU's system of free travel and could cause a German government crisis.

The issue has divided longtime conservative allies and poses the most serious challenge yet to Merkel's leadership, raising questions about a possible collapse of her coalition a little more than 100 days after it took office.

Merkel needs deals to stop migrants from trekking north, as well as an agreement that the coastal states would take back people who make it to Germany against European Union rules. European Union nations, Merkel said, have to see "how can we help each other without always having to wait for all 28, but by thinking what's important to whom". Rome on Sunday separately criticized Malta for refusing to take in a rescue ship with over 230 migrants.

German chancellor says migration meeting a 'first exchange'