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21st Jul 2019

Germany, Italy alarmed by EU disunity on migrants

  • Steinmeier (c): 'Europe has no right to be divided' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called for a united European approach to the migration crisis and urged fellow member states to stop blame games.

“Europe has no right to be divided [when] facing such a challenge”, he said, while arriving at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Friday (4 September).

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“We won’t be able to fulfill our mission if we don’t stop mutual accusations”.

He spoke after the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orban, on Thursday, described the crisis as “a German problem” and blamed Berlin's open-door policy for aggravating the situation.

Concern the crisis could harm the EU architecture was, on Friday, echoed by Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni.

He told press in Luxembourg that unless the EU changes its asylum laws, EU free movement - a core principle of the Union - might be undone.

The so-called Dublin laws say member states where migrants first enter the EU are responsible for processing their asylum claim.

The system kettles people in front-line countries, such as Greece, Hungary, and Italy.

But lack of internal EU borders, under the so-called Schengen accord, allows them to go to prefered countries, such as Germany, causing chaotic scenes at railway stations and on national boundaries.

“If we don't renegotiate the Dublin rules, first of all, [to acknowledge] the fact that one enters Europe and not a specific country, we'll end up having to renegotiate Schengen … which would be a defeat for Europe's politicians”, Gentiloni said.

The Austrian foreign minister, Sebastian Kurz Austrian, indicated the situation is so severe that EU leaders should call an emergency migration summit.

New initiatives

The Luxembourg talks come amid new initiatives to shape a European response.

Steinmeier, Gentiloni, and their French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, outlined their ideas in a letter and five-page plan sent, this week, to EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini, who is chairing Friday’s event.

The texts, seen by EUobserver, call for a more efficient asylum system and repatriation policy for failed claimants.

They speak of greater EU “solidarity” - a hot-button word, alluding to future EU quotas for relocating migrants from the front-liners.

They propose creating an integrated border management system on the EU’s external borders.

They also propose deeper security co-operation with Mali, Niger, and Nigeria, and more EU money for refugee camps in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

The talk of “solidarity” comes amid news the European Commission will, next week, propose to increase front-line relocation figures to 160,000 people (from 40,000) and to add Hungary to Greece and Italy in the scheme.

It means Hungary could post 54,000 asylum seekers to other EU states.

But its foreign minister, like Orban, remains critical of the scheme, saying, in Luxembourg, it will act as a pull-factor for even more migrants to come.

Orban himself is, also on Friday, meeting with leaders from the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia in Prague.

The so-called Visegrad group has, so far, fiercely resisted EU relocation quotas.

Some Visegrad leaders have also enflamed the debate by saying they only want Christian, not Muslim, refugees.

Walking to Austria

Whatever ministers say, the migrants are, meanwhile, taking matters into their own hands.

On Friday, thousands of people who were previously stranded at a Budapest railway station began to walk, en masse, toward Austria.

On Thursday, others refused Hungarian police orders to get off trains and go into processing camps.

Orban is also taking matters into his own hands.

The Hungarian parliament, where he has a huge majority, on Friday adopted new laws which give the police and army extra rights to stop people from moving around and to search private homes if they suspect people are informally sheltering refugees.

The laws, which, critics say, violate basic civil liberties, also provide for a new “transit zone” on the Hungary-Serbia border, where future asylum seekers’ claims will be dealt with.

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