Allies of Angela Merkel have called for the German leader to be given more time to set up new bilateral migration deals with other European countries, as she returned empty-handed from an emergency mini-summit in Brussels.
Sunday’s gathering of 16 European leaders had been hastily assembled to offer a lifeline to the German chancellor, as her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, is threatening to unilaterally turn away migrants already registered in another EU country at German borders unless the chancellor can come up with a European solution to the problem by 1 July.
But with the unorthodox meeting failing to reach concrete conclusions, senior members of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union have rallied around their party leader and called on its sister party, the Bavarian CSU, to adjust their expectations.
“I believe there will be progress by the time of the EU summit on Thursday and Friday,” said Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for budget and human resources. “But there won’t be an agreement of the dimension that some in the CSU are expecting.”
The centre-right politician said he believed Merkel had “strong arguments for carrying out further discussions at a European level”.
Armin Laschet, the CDU state premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, warned Seehofer that unilateral action on the German border could trigger a chain reaction that could damage the country’s national interest.
“If we as Germany go alone now, then Italy might withdraw from the Dublin agreement and stop registering [asylum seekers], and we end up with more refugees than before,” said Laschet.
“If Germany closes its borders shut and Italy doesn’t accept any returns, then the refugees would obviously in the long term end up in Italy,” said the agriculture minister, Julia Klöckner.
What are Merkel’s fourth-term priorities?
A look at the main priorities set out in in the German coalition agreement, which will guide policy-making for the next four years.
Efforts to reform the EU will top the incoming government’s agenda as the bloc grapples with rising nationalism, security concerns and an unpredictable US ally in Donald Trump.
As well as agreeing to bolster EU foreign and defence policy, the parties say they are ready to raise Germany’s contributions to the EU’s budget once Britain leaves. They also support the creation of a European Monetary Fund, but offer only cautious backing for Emmanuel Macron’s idea of a eurozone investment budget.
Smarting from the backlash over Merkel’s decision to open the country’s doors to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in 2015, the government now aims to cap the annual intake of people seeking safe haven to about 200,000.
At the EU level, Merkel says she continues to expect member states to take in their allocated share of refugees. The chancellor has also reiterated the need to tackle “the root causes of migration” with development aid for the countries of origin, while better securing the bloc’s outer borders.
Europe’s powerhouse economy is booming, with workers enjoying high wages and record-low unemployment, but that has done little to assuage concerns about globalisation and automation in the workplace, as well as growing inequality.
With its flush public coffers, Merkel’s government aims to address these fears through investments in infrastructure, an offensive to improve the nation’s creaking internet networks, pension reform and more funding for education and life-long learning.
The EU’s Dublin regulation requires asylum seekers to make their application in the first EU country they arrive in – meaning Italy and Greece currently bear a disproportionate burden.
The former finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble warned that Merkel would have no choice but to relieve Seehofer of his job should he go ahead with border closures without the chancellor’s permission.
“If a minister goes against the chancellor, she has no choice. She must uphold the dignity of her office,” said Schäuble, who is currently president of the German Bundestag.
Meanwhile, the architect of the 2016 migration deal between the EU and Turkey said on Monday Merkel would stand her best chances of escaping from the current dilemma by concentrating on a deal between a smaller group of European states.
“Those who are seeking a solution, like the German chancellor and [France’s] President Macron, have to be clear that they are only going to find a solution with the help of countries who are genuinely interested in finding one,” said Gerald Knaus, director of the European Stability Initiative thinktank. “And there you have one country offering itself up, and that’s Greece.”
Reintroducing effective border controls on Germany’s southern borders, Knaus said, “would be such a dramatic intrusion in the daily life of people who live there that it would be the first step towards the collapse of the European project”.
Meanwhile, on a visit to Libya, Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said he had proposed setting up migrant reception centres at Libya’s southern borders to help staunch the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy.
Salvini, whose far-right party the League has campaigned to bar migrants fleeing Africa and expel those already in Italy, and has been in a governing coalition since the start of June, did not say in which countries such centres could be located.
Reuters contributed to this report