Rome/Berlin – Top-level migration talks are due to take place on Sunday between Germany, Austria, Italy, France and other EU member states, against the backdrop of a bitter debate on the issue within Europe.
Attempts to reform the asylum file
The European Union has long been trying to overhaul its asylum system, which failed to cope with the arrival of more than 1 million migrants in 2015. But progress has stalled amid fierce opposition to the forced relocation of asylum seekers within the EU.
A change of government in Italy brought the issue to a head when the country closed its ports last week to a boat carrying more than 600 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, in a message to other European states that Italy needs more help.
In Germany, meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel is being challenged over her efforts to find European solutions to the migration issue, with Interior Minister and coalition partner Horst Seehofer threatening to close the border to new arrivals.
Sunday’s meeting, in Brussels, comes days ahead of a June 28-29 summit of all 28 EU leaders in the Belgian capital.
“I am convening an informal working meeting on migration and asylum issues in Brussels on Sunday,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced on Wednesday on Twitter.
Proposals for a German solution to the asylum crisis
The aim is to bring together EU leaders “interested in finding European solutions” to the migration issue ahead of the summit, he added.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera had first reported on the talks, which are to include Bulgaria and Austria as the current and next holders of the EU’s rotating presidency. The report was confirmed by Italian diplomatic sources.
Germany’s mass-circulation Bild newspaper also reported on the planned meeting, quoting diplomatic sources. Germany would present its proposed migration compromise to other member states, a senior Greek government representative told the paper.
Italian Interior Minister and deputy premier Matteo Salvini told reporters he would meet Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte later Wednesday to draft an Italian proposal for Sunday’s talks.
“The issue is not to turn back [migrants] within the [European] Union,” Salvini said. “The issue is not to argue between member states, but to use EU funds and staff to defend European borders.”
“We should do on the Mediterranean border like we do on the Balkan border,” he added, referring to an increase in staffing and efforts to bolster the border infrastructure following the 2015 migration crisis, when most people arrived via that route.