Thursday 16 August 2018

Merkel sees off coalition revolt as Spain takes back migrants

A group of migrants are seen on a rescue boat as they wait to disembark after arriving at the port of Malaga in southern Spain yesterday after crossing the Mediterranean. Photo: Jon Nazca/Reuters
A group of migrants are seen on a rescue boat as they wait to disembark after arriving at the port of Malaga in southern Spain yesterday after crossing the Mediterranean. Photo: Jon Nazca/Reuters

Justin Huggler

Germany has announced a new agreement with Spain to return migrants who are already registered there.

The deal is an attempt to prevent migrants using the border-free Schengen Area to travel across Europe to the destination of their choice. Migrants who are already registered in Spain will be refused entry at the German border and deported within 48 hours.

"We welcome the willingness of Spain to cooperate," a spokesman for the German interior ministry said, adding that the Spanish government had asked for nothing in return.

Spain has become the new preferred route for migrants attempting to reach Europe in recent months, and there are concerns many are using it as a transit point to reach Germany and other northern European countries.

But, although Chanellor Angela Merkel's government portrayed the deal as a breakthrough in the European Union's current gridlock over migrants, an agreement with Spain has never been in doubt - she secured Spanish and Greek support for the idea at an EU summit last month.

The real test for the new German policy will be whether it can reach a similar agreement with Italy, which remains the main route for migrants seeking to reach the German border, and whose populist government has made it clear it is opposed. Negotiations are still ongoing with both the Italians and Greek governments, an interior ministry spokesman said.

The deal is the result of a compromise Ms Merkel agreed last month to head off a rebellion by her interior minister Horst Seehofer, who was threatening to resign and bring down her government if she did not agree to his demands over migrant policy.

Mr Seehofer threatened to pull his Christian Social Union party out of her coalition government and deprive her of a parliamentary majority unless she agreed to his proposals to refuse entry to migrants who are already registered elsewhere.

Threatened

Ms Merkel warned a unilateral move by Germany could end hopes of securing a EU-wide migrant policy, and Austria threatened to close its border with Italy if Germany started turning back migrants.

Under the compromise, migrants will only be returned to those countries that have agreed to accept them. Ms Merkel is to visit Spain at the weekend for talks with Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez.

The new Spanish government was always Germany's best hope of securing a deal. Spain's interior minister Josep Borell has spoken out in praise of Ms Merkel's "open-door" refugee policy of 2015 and earlier this week called for Germany, Spain and France to form a new migrant-friendly bloc within the EU.

"If all countries do not join in, then a small coalition of countries around Germany, France and Spain must lead the way. We must not fall back into nationalism," Mr Borell told the 'Handelsblatt' newspaper.

"There are currently two different narratives in Europe: on the one hand there are countries like Hungary, Poland, Italy and Austria, who want to build new walls on their national borders, the higher the better. On the other side are France, Germany, Spain and Portugal."

Mr Borrell's remarks will not make life any easier for Mr Seehofer, who is leading negotiations to reach a similar agreement with Italy. Mr Seehofer has publicly allied himself to Italy and Austria over migrant policy, and will see the Spanish deal as his rival Ms Merkel stealing a march on him.

It remains to be seen how many migrants will be turned away under the Spanish deal. At the moment, Germany is only setting up transit centres to turn away migrants in Mr Seehofer's native Bavaria, on the border with Austria.

But that is not an obvious route for migrants coming from Spain, and some of the German regional governments on the French border have made clear their distaste for the scheme. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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