Author: JAMES MURRAY
GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted yesterday the EU is on the brink of breaking up over migration. Her shock assessment comes as her fragile coalition government could also collapse, with critics urging her to take a much harder line with migrants.
In a weekly podcast she admitted: “This is a European challenge that also needs a European solution. And I view this issue as decisive for keeping Europe together.”
Her comments come against a backdrop of furious rows over immigration in Europe.
Ms Merkel’s own interior minister is calling for a tougher line on migrants, threatening a breakdown of Germany’s three-month-old coalition.
Meanwhile, the rescue ship Aquarius, with some 630 migrants on board, is due to reach Valencia in Spain today, after Italy and Malta refused to allow any of them to come ashore.
Spain’s stretched coastguard has recently rescued a further 933 migrants from flimsy boats and pulled four bodies from the Mediterranean.
Ms Merkel is due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron later this week to work on a European-wide policy ahead of the EU summit at the end of the month.
Mr Macron is backing an Italian plan for a “fortress Europe” to stem the tide of economic migrants.
Italy is also demanding asylum seekers be equally distributed through EU states.
Its chiefs want an end of rules which say they should seek asylum at the first country they set foot in.
Interior minister Matteo Salvini, who is also leader of the Right-wing Northern League and deputy PM, yesterday vowed to continue to block foreign hum anitarian boats from Italian ports.
He said that two other foreign nongovernment organisation ships were off the coast of Libya waiting to pick up migrants abandoned by human traffickers.
“They should know that Italy no longer wants to be an accomplice in the business of illegal immigration and therefore they will have to aim for other, non-Italian, ports,” he said.
After being branded a “fascist” by one of the NGOs, Salvini hit back, saying “insults and threats will not stop us”.
He spoke a day after Italy and France tried to bury the hatchet following a diplomatic squabble over Rome’s refusal to accept the Aquarius.
Ms Merkel yesterday rejected plans by her interior minister, CSU leader Horst Seehofer, for Germany to unilaterally send back migrants who have registered in other EU countries.
His plan would be a huge blow to the chancellor’s authority as it would reverse her 2015 open-door policy, which has since seen 1.6 million migrants travel to Germany. Seehofer is expected to go ahead with the plans alone.
CDU leader Ms Merkel could then be forced to sack him, a move which could trigger the end of the CSU-CDU conservative parliamentary alliance.
CSU general secretary Markus Blume said the party stood behind Seehofer. “We are at a decisive watershed in the history of this republic,” he said.
Meanwhile, CDU home affairs spokesman Mathias Middelberg said: “I believe (Merkel) will try to the very end to find unity in the matter.”
Asked if the alliance could shatter, he replied: “That can’t be fully ruled out.”
Ingo Senftleben, head of the CDU in the state of Brandenburg, said: “Dissolving the co-operation agreement would bring the end of the coalition and cause a political earthquake.”
Speaker Wolfgang Schauble is this weekend trying to broker peace, after saying: “The end of Merkel’s chancellorship has never been so close.”