Conte: Germany is aware EU needs to change its migration policy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte during a press statement at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 18 June 2018. [Filip Singer/EPA/EFE]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday (18 June) she wanted to support Italy in its efforts to reduce the number of migrants arriving on its shores, possibly handling asylum requests for Europe in non-European countries including Libya.

Most migrants attempting to reach Europe from Africa take the sea route from Libya to Italy, though last year saw a spike in numbers departing from Morocco to Spain instead.

“Italy is one of the countries that is receiving a lot of refugees as a first arrival country,” Merkel told reporters before talks with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

“We want to support Italy in its call for solidarity and hope that Germany will also be met with understanding when it comes to solidarity in Europe with the issues of migration.”

Merkel said her talks with Conte and other European leaders in coming weeks would focus on the question of how the European Union could enable a stable government in Libya and how its coast guard could be better trained.

“And how we can, if necessary, already carry out asylum-related proceedings there. These are all questions that we will discuss in the coming months and where we want to work very closely together,” Merkel said.

Matteo Salvini, interior minister in the anti-establishment government that took office this month in Rome, has adopted a policy of blocking foreign humanitarian boats from Italian ports, which has triggered heated exchanges with France and the Netherlands.

Italy applauds Tripoli's decision to keep NGO ships far away from Libyan coasts

The Italian government yesterday (13 August) welcomed Libya’s decision to bar foreign vessels from a stretch of water off its coast, a move that has prompted almost all international charities to halt migrant search and rescue operations in the area.

Conte has spoken of the need for European-run immigration offices outside Europe to prevent “voyages of death”. More than 3,000 migrants died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in 2017, according to the UN Migration Agency (IOM).

Italian PM Conte slams French 'hypocrisy' in migrant convoy clash

Italy forged ahead with plans to send hundreds of migrants to Spain in a small naval convoy on Tuesday (12 June) after shutting its own ports to them, sparking a war of words with France that exposed EU tensions over immigration.

During the short news conference with Merkel in Berlin, Conte said the European Union had to change its position on migration. “I think Germany is aware of this too,” he added.

Italy wants to adapt current EU asylum guidelines in favour of “a new approach that is more harmonious, so that whoever sets foot in Italy, sets foot in Europe”, Conte said.

The European Commission said on Monday it was confident that EU leaders could agree at a summit next week on handling migrants and refugees, but some diplomats were much less optimistic.

Merkel is under pressure from Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) to achieve a reform of refugee policy at European level – or face early elections.

Merkel avoids government collapse over immigration but faces deadline

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Bavarian allies agreed to give her two weeks’ breathing space yesterday (18 June) to find a European solution to a row over immigration that threatens to scupper her three-month-old coalition government.

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