German Chancellor Angela Merkel played down expectations of a major breakthrough being reached at hastily-arranged talks between some EU leaders on Sunday on the migration dispute dividing Europe.
Plans for an emergency meeting of 10 EU leaders on Sunday before a full EU summit at the end of the week were thrown into chaos on Thursday when Italy’s new prime minister said a draft paper on migration had been pulled due to a clash with Merkel.
The German chancellor’s back is against a wall.
She needs to get EU leaders at the June 28-29 summit to agree to share out asylum seekers more evenly to placate her conservative allies, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) but countries like Italy are very reluctant.
“The meeting on Sunday is a consultation and working meeting at which there will be no concluding statement,” Merkel told a reporters in Beirut with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“It is an initial exchange with interested member states.”
But if no ‘satisfactory’ deal is achieved at next week’s summit, German Interior Minister and CSU chief Horst Seehofer has threatened to defy Merkel and turn people away at the German border who have applied for asylum in other EU states.
National border controls would undermine the EU’s open border system and could cause a German government crisis, although Merkel tried to play this down, too.
“I am working for the coalition to do its tasks as set out in the coalition agreement…We have lots more to do,” she said.
The Social Democrats, who also share power with Merkel’s conservative bloc – comprising the CSU and her own Christian Democrats (CDU) – said they were ready for a new election.
“The SPD is prepared for all scenarios,” SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil said. Der Spiegel had reported that the party was making preparations, which would include deciding who would run for the job of chancellor.
Merkel is also working on bilateral agreements with partners like Italy and Greece to reduce the burden on Germany, possibly similar to one agreed with Turkey two years ago.
With Italy having taken in 650,000 boat migrants in the last five years, Rome objects to the idea of asylum seekers having to be returned to the EU country they first registered in.
Merkel, whose open-door approach has resulted in the arrival of more than 1.6 million migrants in Germany since 2014, will also discuss the issue with Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, on Tuesday in Berlin.