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22nd Jul 2018

Germany piles on the pressure in refugee talks

  • "Wir schaffen das" ("we can do this") Merkel famously said at a press conference on 31 August, raising hopes for thousands of asylum seekers in Germany. (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

Germany raised the stakes in the refugees crisis on Tuesday (15 September), a day after EU ministers failed to agree on a mechanism to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers between member states.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, together with Austria's Werner Faymann, called for an emergency summit of EU leaders next week to address the crisis at the highest level, a few hours after her interior minister hinted at cuts in EU funding for countries opposed to sharing refugees.

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"It is a problem for the entire European Union and therefore we argued for a special EU summit to be held next week," Merkel said at a joint press conference with Faymann in Berlin.

"Time is running out, we cannot wait until mid-October," she said. A regular EU summit is scheduled on 15-16 October, after the next interior ministers' meeting on 8 October.

It will be up to the president of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, to summon EU leaders. On Friday, Tusk said he would call a summit if ministers failed to agree on Monday. "Donald Tusk will look into that," Merkel said.

From Seoul, where he was Tuesday for an EU-Korea summit, Tusk said he would "continue consultations and announce [his] decision Thursday".

Merkel and Faymann were followed by Slovak PM Robert Fico in demanding an EU summit. But for entirely different reasons.

While Germany and Austria want a mechanism to relocate asylum seekers in all EU member states, Slovakia is one of the main opponents to the EU Commission proposal.

"In a serious and sensitive matter such as dictating to a country how many people it must accept, when it does not have the opportunity to choose these people, it is definitely a summit that should decide," Fico said on Tuesday.



According to an EU source, Hungary, the other main opponent to the relocation proposal, also insisted on an emergency summit during Monday's ministerial meeting.

If convened by Tusk, the EU summit is likely to be contentious, with certain countries asking for solidarity and others refusing to receive migrants.

In a message posted on Twitter, Czech interior minister Milan Chovanec said "the main problem in dealing with migration is currently the inconsistent German policy".

"Not even showing off muscles to neighbours across the border doesn't hide [the problem]," added Chovanec, who opposed a mandatory relocation mechanism at Monday's meeting.

'Blackmail'

The calls for a summit came a few hours after German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said he would support cuts in structural funds for countries opposing relocation.

"The negotiations situation is such that nothing happens to countries which refuse," he said on Germany's ZDF television.

"We need to talk about ways of exerting pressure. These are often countries that receive a lot of structural funds from the European Union," he said, adding that the EU Commission president "has suggested that we should look at whether these countries should get less structural funds, which I agree with".

The Commission denied any plan to cut EU funds over divergences on the migration issue.

"It was never an idea that came up, Juncker never said that," a Commission source said Tuesday. "The EU budget would have to be amended".

In her press conference, Merkel backtracked on the idea, saying "threats are not the right way to unity".

But after a tense ministerial meeting on Monday and imposition of controls at Germany's borders on Sunday, De Maiziere's declaration was interpreted as another means to pressure reluctant countries.

"It is not the most intelligent way for blackmailing," a diplomat said Tuesday.

"There are different ways of solidarity, like providing border guards, protecting external borders. To link solidarity only with this stupid quota system which is dealing with a symbolic part of the problem... Come on!," the diplomat added.

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