Germany and France on Monday (1 June) urged the EU to find a fairer way to admit and distribute asylum seekers, as their leaders met the European Commission chief in Berlin.
The Greek crisis, and the threat of Brexit were also high on the agenda, as Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted President François Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker for a working dinner.
The summit brought together the leaders of the eurozone’s two biggest economies, and the EU executive, with heads of large European companies to discuss economic challenges in the digital age.
The three leaders did not touch on refugees, Greece or Britain in brief press statements at the start of the meeting, which Juncker said would discuss the growth and jobs potential of a future “digital single market” in the 28-nation bloc.
The get-together came hours after a joint call by Paris and Berlin for the EU to revise its plan to admit asylum seekers landing on Europe’s shores, amid a spike in arrivals from war zones such as Syria, and some poverty-stricken African countries.
Decrying an insufficient “balance”, the German and French interior ministers said in a joint statement that “deep discussions” were needed, along with “exercising responsibility, solidarity and fairer burden-sharing”.
Last week, the European Commission asked member states to admit 20,000 Syrian refugees from outside Europe and process another 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea landing in Italy and Greece.
Which EU countries would take them in would depend on factors such as national economic output, population and unemployment rates.
France and Germany said in the joint statement that they currently were among five member states, along with Sweden, Italy and Hungary, that “are in charge of 75% of the asylum seekers”.
“This situation is not fair and no longer sustainable,” they said.
Meeting on short notice for an extraordinary summit on 23 April 2015, EU leaders dealt Juncker, now Commission President, a double-blow on immigration. Firstly, his proposal for legal migration was not supported. Second, he tried to secure resettlement across Europe for 10,000 refugees. Instead he had to settle for a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement for those qualifying for protection.
EU leaders decided to triple annual funding to €120 million to the Operation Triton, an EU frontier operation off of the coast of Italy, putting it at the same level of funding as the defunct Italian Mare Nostrum mission.
Among 17 proposals in a summit communiqué, leaders agreed to "undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers". It is unclear how that may be achieved, and several leaders said they would need a UN mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country, along with Sweden, takes in a large proportion of asylum-seekers, called for a change in the EU's system of managing asylum claims to better distribute the pressures across the bloc.
It also became known that the EU is seeking United Nations Security Council approval to seize vessels used to traffic migrants across the Mediterranean from Libya, though Russia has signaled it would not allow destruction of the vessels.