Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Merkel and Juncker's mini-summit risks fiasco

  • Sundays' meeting designed to appease Angela Merkel's Bavarian coalition partner and supposed 'ally', Horst Seehofer (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

A special summit designed to help Germany deal with immigration has turned into a car crash before it began.

The draft summit declaration has gone in the bin because Italy said no to keeping migrants out of Germany.

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  • Conte agreed to come on Sunday on condition that the draft text was binned (Photo: quirinale.it)

One of the principal guests, France, has called two of the others, Austria and Italy, "lepers".

Four other EU states, who were not invited, have rubbished the summit as a club of "migrant-loving friends".

The top echelons of the European Commission have also angered those in the EU Council after calling the meeting over their heads.

That is the backdrop for a summit of nine EU leaders at 2PM on Sunday in Brussels and for a subsequent talks by all 28 EU leaders in the city on Thursday.

German pressure

Sunday's event was called by commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and German leader Angela Merkel to help her deal with her hawkish interior minister.

Juncker's people drafted a declaration saying the EU would halt "secondary movements" - a jargon term for asylum seekers who arrive in Italy or Greece, then move on to Germany and other wealthier countries.

It came after Merkel's minister, Horst Seehofer, threatened to bring down her coalition unless she took a hard line on the issue.

But the declaration was abandoned when Italy said no, exposing the depth of EU division.

"The [German] chancellor clarified that there had been a 'misunderstanding'. The draft text released yesterday [Wednesday] will be shelved," Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, said on Thursday.

He said he would come on Sunday, but the populist government he represented hardened its line still further.

It refused to take in a boat of 226 migrants, called the Lifeline, on Thursday.

They had been rescued by a German charity, but Italy added that it might impound such NGO-run boats in future.

This came after it earlier refused to take in another boat, the Aquarius, leaving people stranded at sea for days.

EU 'lepers'

Italy's far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, also pledged to target Roma for expulsion, prompting comparisons with the country's fascist past.

That kind of politics amounted to "leprosy", French leader Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday.

"You can see them [populists] rise a bit like a leprosy all across Europe, in countries where we thought it would be impossible to see them again," he said.

"They're saying the worst things, and we're getting used to it," he said.

He did not name Italy, Austria, which is co-led by the far-right, or Hungary and Poland, which are also led by xenophobic eurosceptics, but Rome knew what he meant.

Macron was "offensive", Italy's deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, said.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, also cried foul after leaders met in Budapest.

Sunday's summit was "unacceptable", Polish prime minister Matuesz Morawiecki said.

"Let's just say we don't belong to this migrant-loving group of friends and neither do we want to partake," he said.

Hungary's Viktor Orban highlighted the Bavarian context of Sunday's talks, which made it look as if Merkel's comfort was more important to Juncker than European unity.

"We understand there are domestic political difficulties in some countries, but that cannot lead to pan-European haste," Orban said.

Juncker vs. Tusk

Orban added that EU summits ought to be called at the level of 28 by the EU Council, under normal procedure, not in novel formats on Merkel's whim.

The remarks showed to what extent national divisions have bled into EU institutions.

EU Council head Donald Tusk had declined Merkel's mini-summit idea and his officials had leaked the EU-28 summit draft declaration to press.

But Juncker snubbed Tusk by agreeing to do it instead and the commission then leaked its EU-9 declaration, pushing Tusk's text out of view.

That sets the scene for a prickly press conference when the two men take the podium together, as usual, after next week's summit.

But even if they put aside their egos, they might have little good news to announce.

Hungary, Poland and the other two central European countries remain opposed to EU asylum reform to take the heat off Greece and Italy.

Tunisia says no

Another EU commission idea, to create migrant holdings pens in African states, such as Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, or Niger also seems set to fall on its face.

"It [still] has to be discussed with these countries," EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Thursday.

Tunisia already had answer, however.  

"We have neither the capacity nor the means to organise these detention centres," Tunisia's ambassador to the EU, Tahar Cherif, said.

"The proposal was put to the head of our government a few months ago during a visit to Germany, it was also asked by Italy, and the answer is clear: No," he said.

Commission defends Africa migrant plan ahead of summit

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos says "regional disembarkation schemes" would be set up in countries around the Mediterranean - although none have expressed a desire to participate.

Belgian mayor invites Orban to migrant-diverse town

Winner of 'World's Best Mayor', Mechelen's Bart Somers has invited Hungary's PM to visit. "You know, in the whole of Hungary with 10million inhabitants, they have less Muslims than we have in a small city of 90,000," he told EUobserver.

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