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Saturday, 9 June 2018

Merkel warns that EU is at threat from impasse over asylum (FT)

"Angela Merkel warned on Wednesday that the EU’s future would be endangered if member states failed to overcome a poisonous impasse over a common policy to handle asylum.

The German chancellor’s unusually forthright intervention underlined the dire state of negotiations on overhauling EU asylum rules. The talks remain deadlocked after two years of squabbling over refugee quotas and which countries should take responsibility for asylum claims. 

Speaking in Munich to a gathering of the centre-right European People’s party, Ms Merkel warned that the impasse threatened free movement and passport-free travel within the Schengen area. 

“I can be very frank and open and say that if we are unable to come up with a common response to migration challenges the very foundations of the EU will be at stake,” she said. “To begin with it will be freedom of movement that will be questioned.” 

Her remarks came in a wide-ranging speech where Ms Merkel depicted the EU as needing to reinvent itself to “breathe new life” into the European project and cope with a rapidly changing global order. “I do not know if we are really in a position to counter future crises effectively,” she said. 

Berlin is particularly alarmed at the state of talks on the so-called Dublin asylum regulation, which Brussels proposed to head off a repeat of the 2015-16 migration crisis, when almost 2.5m people applied for asylum in the bloc. Burden-sharing measures, such as quotas for the number of refugees each country in the union should handle, are backed by Germany but bitterly opposed by central European countries such as Hungary and Poland. 

Ministerial talks this week concluded with no sign of reconciling entrenched positions before this month’s EU leaders’ summit. Theo Francken, Belgium’s migration and asylum minister, declared the Dublin reform “dead”. 

The impasse has prompted a group of EU countries, including Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands, to enter informal discussions about establishing camps for rejected asylum seekers in a non-EU country. 

The discussions are at a preliminary stage. But Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, said he was “optimistic” that a pilot project could pave the way for a more effective approach to migration issues. 

“Based on my discussions with other European leaders — and the dialogue that is going on at official level — it is my expectation that we will be able to take the first step this year,” he said on Tuesday in Copenhagen. 

Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, also confirmed his interest such an initiative, which is being considered outside a formal EU framework. He argued that the use of external facilities for handling asylum claimants would stop claimants moving to more lenient member states. 

“The suggestion was made to provide protection outside of the EU to these people so that they can have the protection when it’s necessary but they should not have the possibility to pick the best asylum system for their application,” he said at a press conference in Brussels. 

Austria takes on the EU’s rotating presidency in July and Mr Kurz has made clear he wants to move the discussion on to border control and stop “wasting time” on arguments over sharing refugees. 

Ms Merkel’s remarks build on comments she made in an interview over the weekend, calling on the EU to develop a “common asylum system” and ultimately establish a pan-European refugee agency in charge of handling asylum applications. 

“We need a common asylum system and comparable standards when it comes to decisions on who should receive asylum and who should not,” she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung. “We need unified procedures at the external European borders.” "