BERLIN (Reuters) - Europe needs a unified approach to migration that addresses the interests of each country, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday, noting that Italy did not feel it was receiving sufficient support from other European Union member states.
Merkel, facing sharp criticism of her own migration policies from fellow German conservatives, warned against any state pursuing unilateral actions, and said it was important to maintain a unified European approach.
“It’s very, very important to me that Germany also does not act unilaterally, but that everything we do is orderly, discussed, with agreements with others, so that we have a really unified European approach”, Merkel told reporters after a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Merkel was due to hold a “crisis meeting” later on Wednesday with top officials from her Christian Democratic Union and its CSU Bavarian sister party, which wants Germany to turn away migrants at the border who are registered in other EU states.
Such a move would represent a reversal of Merkel’s open-door migrant policy adopted in 2015, which has fuelled a rise in support for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) and caused rifts within her conservative bloc.
The German leader spoke after CSU leader Horst Seehofer, long a thorn in Merkel’s side, called for Germany to ally itself with Austria, governed by a right-wing coalition, and Italy on migration and security policies.
Austrian Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz, speaking alongside Seehofer, said Europe needed “an axis of the willing in the fight against illegal migration”.
Seehofer told reporters he expected difficult discussions with Merkel about German migration policy, but would do all he could to achieve an agreement.
CDU General-Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, speaking on broadcaster ZDF, suggested “an axis” of EU members could potentially form agreements to turn back migrants registered elsewhere, as has already occurred under a bilateral treaty between France and Italy.
She warned that any unilateral action by Germany could undermine its negotiating position as it pushes for a strong and unified EU position at the bloc’s upcoming summit on June 28-29.
“The opportunity is there. We should use it”, she said.
Italy is embroiled in a widening dispute with France after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with “cynicism and irresponsibility” by closing its ports this week to the migrant ship Aquarius with 629 migrants on board.
The chancellor said migration represented a significant challenge for Europe when it was in a “very fragile situation”.
“Europe must stick together”, she said, acknowledging Italy’s concern that it had taken in many migrants but fellow EU countries were not showing sufficient solidarity.
“For me, the question of how we deal with the migration question is something of a litmus test for the future and the unity of Europe, and the interests of every country must be considered”, Merkel said.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Sabine Siebold and Thorsten Severin; editing by Paul Carrel, Mark Heinrich