Merkel and Hollande to press EU to move faster on asylum policy

François Hollande and Angela Merkel in Paris on Monday (6 July). [French Presidency]

Germany and France will press the European Union to move faster and with more unity to deal with the worsening refugee crisis, amid complaints from Germany that it is shouldering too big a burden.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande will meet in Berlin on Monday (24 August) to discuss how to speed up relief for thousands of migrants, many of whom risk dangerous sea voyages to reach southern Europe before making their way across the continent.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told a news conference yesterday (20 August) with his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve that the EU must move more quickly as migrant numbers across the EU have surged in recent months.

“It’s unacceptable for European institutions to continue working at the pace they are currently operating at,” said de Maizière, one day after he said Germany will receive a record 800,000 refugees and asylum-seekers this year.

>>Read: Austria set to force towns to take refugees

De Maizière said he and Cazeneuve agree Italy and Greece need considerable EU help to set up “waiting areas” for newly arrived refugees. Countries bordering the EU will also need EU support to counter smugglers as well address the causes of mass migration, he said.

“It’s obvious that Italy and Greece will need help and that will cost a relatively large amount of EU money,” said de Maizière, a close ally of Merkel, who earlier on Thursday complained Germany has taken in 40% of the EU’s refugees.

“That is too many for the long run,” he told German TV.

De Maizière told the news conference that the EU Commission needs to apply far more pressure on countries outside the EU, especially those seeking to join the EU in the Balkans, to take back refugees failing to qualify for asylum.

Migrant influx more pressing than Eurozone crisis

Merkel, who called it “extremely unsatisfying” that Germany is taking in a disproportionate numbers, said earlier this week that the EU urgently needs to come up with joint policies in the face of the worsening humanitarian crisis. She said the issue would become more pressing for Europe than the eurozone crisis.

“We need a common European asylum policy,” she said.

In the meantime, Britain and France announced a new “command and control centre” yesterday to tackle smuggling gangs in Calais, as Europe grapples with its biggest migration crisis since World War II.

UK, France sign deal to tackle Calais crisis

Under a deal signed by Home Minister Theresa May and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve, British teams will help bust smuggling gangs and reduce nightly attempts by desperate migrants and refugees to break into the Channel Tunnel.

The new deal for Calais includes extra French policing units, additional freight searches, and tighter security at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel through more fencing, cameras, floodlighting and infrared detection technology.

A control centre will also be built there to try and bring down entry attempts, which at the start of the summer numbered up to 2,000 per night, but have since fallen due to tighter security.

Under the agreement, seen by AFP, Britain will also provide €10 million over two years to speed up asylum applications and boost humanitarian aid in the northern port city.

The Commission welcomed the declaration of the British and French authorities. First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said they would both visit Calais on 31 August to meet with Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Minister of Interior Bernard Cazeneuve, see the situation on the ground, including the migrant day centre, Jules Ferry, co-financed by the EU, and to discuss next steps.

Focus on Belgium and the Netherlands

Meanwhile, Belgium and the Netherlands are being asked to help keep illegal migrants from British ports in the aftermath of tightened security in Calais.

May expressed her concern about migrants looking for alternative routes to avoid joint police command set up in Calais. Speaking in the French town, she said Minister for Security and Immigration James Brokenshire has already had talks with the Dutch and Belgian authorities to tighten security in Zeebrugge in Belgium and Hook in Holland, seen as potentially vulnerable.

Diplomatic push

Cazeneuve separately announced that Europe’s interior and foreign ministers would hold a meeting in Paris in mid-October to discuss how to cope with the influx of migrants and refugees seeking a better life in the European Union.

The meeting, to be followed by another round of talks in Berlin, will pave the way for broader discussions at an EU-Africa summit in Malta in November, he said.

The diplomatic push for a coordinated response comes as a barrage of alarming statistics showed hundreds of thousands of migrants – many fleeing war and persecution in countries like Syria – are pouring into the European Union, with no end in sight.

>>Read: Immigrant crisis causes outcry in Europe

Macedonia even declared a “state of emergency” on its southern border with Greece, saying it would draft in the army to help control the flood of people crossing the frontier.

Some 3,000 people from Africa, the Middle East and Asia are camped in Calais in slum-like conditions, and at least nine have died trying to cross over into Britain, where many have family and work is thought easier to find.

On Thursday, hundreds of migrants and refugees marched from their encampment in Calais, dubbed “new jungle”, to the port in protest at the deal, which was unveiled during a high-profile official visit by May and Cazeneuve.

On 27 May, the European Commission proposed the relocation of 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece to other EU countries, as well as the resettlement of 20,000 from outside the EU, across member states. The Commission's scheme needs to be adopted by the Council of the European Union, voting by qualified majority.

It was clear from the outset that the proposal stood no chance of being accepted by most member states, given the reactions of EU leaders at the extraordinary summit on migration on 23 April (see background).

>>Read: Commission on collision course with member states on migration

It also became obvious that many countries, including France and Germany, do not reject the idea of burden-sharing, but consider that the proposed quotas need to be reworked.

>>Read: Germany and France urge Commission to revise immigration plan

>>Read : Many EU countries say “no” to immigration quotas

On 20 July EU ministers decided to re-distribute 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy (24,000 from Italy and 16,000 from Greece) on a voluntary basis, postponing the implementation until the end of the year.

>> Read: EU fails to relocate 40,000 migrants

In the meantime, it became obvious that the EU initiative to re-distribute immigrants is dwarfed by new massive arrivals of asylum-seekers. 21,000 refugees landed on Greek shores in only one week week.

>> Read: Massive arrival of refugees in Greece dwarfs EU’s relocation initiative

  • 24 August: Merkel and Hollande to meet in Berlin;
  • 4 September: Informal meeting of EU ministers of foreign Affairs, Luxembourg
  • 8 October: Justice and Home Affairs Council, Luxembourg;
  • 12 October: Foreign Affairs Council, Luxembourg;
  • Mid-October: Meeting in Paris of ministers of Interior and Foreign Affairs;
  • 11-12 November: Valetta Conference on Migration

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