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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Germany pessimistic European migration deal possible

Fears Merkel government could collapse amid pressure to clamp down on migration

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) talks with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer prior to the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin on June 13, 2018. / AFP / Tobias SCHWARZ
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) talks with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer prior to the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin on June 13, 2018. / AFP / Tobias SCHWARZ

Germany played down hopes on Friday that an EU summit will find a permanent solution to the migration row that has put Chancellor Angela Merkel’s future in peril.

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said individual countries within the EU were likely to strike deals, with deep divisions in the 28-nation bloc likely to scupper prospects plans for a unified front.

“The EU summit late next week will not reach a solution to the overall migration problem,” she said.

Ms Merkel has come under increasing pressure from her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to bring in a new policy that would see Germany deny entry to migrants who have already claimed asylum in another EU country.

The Chancellor reportedly wants such a change to be delivered at EU policy level but hardliner Seehofer has given Ms Merkel until the end of the month to reach a deal.

After the deadline expires the interior minister has vowed to ignore Ms Merkel by ordering German police at the border to turn away migrants already registered elsewhere.

Mr Seehofer’s conservative Christian Social Union, which has been allied with Ms Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union since 1949, faces Bavarian regional elections in the autumn and fears ceding votes to the far-right Alternative for Germany.

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Germany has allowed some 1.1 million asylum seekers into the country since 2015, a contentious issue that now threatens to finish Merkel’s fragile coalition. A poll by the German newspaper Die Welt suggested that a third of voters thought the dispute would break up the coalition and 45 per cent thought it would survive.

However, three-quarters of Germans questioned in a poll of more than 5,000 people by the same newspaper said they were sceptical of the Chancellor being able to strike any deal, with only 18 per cent believing that she would be successful,

The news came as Italy’s new anti-immigration government said it would seize two boats carrying 226 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya.

Italy said the move was necessary because the ships, operated by German NGO Mission Lifeline, were illegally flying the Dutch flag. Mission Lifeline later tweeted documents rebutting the Italian position.

In a statement, Lifeline said it had rescued the migrants "in line with all international regulations" and called for a "port of safety to disembark those rescued". The organisation said it feared "a similar situation to the Aquarius could be on the horizon".

Last week Italy refused to allow the NGO-ran Aquarius to dock in its ports because migrants were onboard, signalling the beginning of the new Italian government’s hard line anti-migration policy. The ensuing furore engulfed much of Europe and the Aquarius was forced to take a long detour to Spain, having also been rejected by Malta.

"Foreign NGO boats will never touch Italian soil again," said the right-wing interior minister Matteo Salvini. Italy allowed one of its own coastguard boats to dock in Sicily on Wednesday carrying more than 500 rescued people. Mr Salvini has signalled his intent to deport some half a million illegal migrants from Italy’s shores.

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