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Conte shake hands after giving a statement to the press before their meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany
Image: Imago/ZUMA Press/E. Contini

Merkel, Conte pledge collaboration amid migration debate

June 18, 2018

The German chancellor says she wants to work with Italy to reduce the number of refugees entering the European Union. Merkel is facing a rebellion inside her governing conservative alliance over migration.


Germany: Migration showdown

Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to support Italy in tackling mass migration from outside the European Union during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday.

"We want to support Italy's desire for solidarity, and also hope that Germany receives understanding when it comes to European solidarity on the question of migration," she said in Berlin.

Read more: Angela Merkel buys time in government crisis over asylum

Merkel and Conte agreed on the need to beef up Frontex, the EU's external border police, and to work with international organizations to tackle the causes of migration in Africa and the Middle East, Merkel said.

They also agreed that EU asylum applications should be processed in origin or transit countries before would-be migrants enter the bloc, she added.

Read more: Angela Merkel seeks EU talks on migration amid coalition row: report

'Italian borders are European borders'

Millions of refugees have traversed the Mediterranean Sea in the last few years to apply for asylum in the EU. The influx has led to an anti-migrant backlash in Italy, where many arrivals first landed, and in Germany, the preferred end destination for many refugees.

Germany: Migration showdown

Conte, who was visiting Germany for the first time since assuming office on June 1, said Italy wanted changes to EU immigration rules to ensure other EU countries share the burden of handling refugees. Current rules stipulate that refugees need to register their asylum application in the first EU country they arrive in.

"The Italian borders are European borders," he said.

Read more: Germany's political crisis over asylum: What happens now?

Merkel-Seehofer dispute

The meeting in Berlin followed a week of political upheaval in Germany and the rest of Europe in response to mass migration into the EU.

Merkel's own position as chancellor appeared to be threatened after her hardline interior minister and conservative ally, Horst Seehofer, called for Germany to start refusing some refugees at the German border. Merkel opposed the move, arguing that Germany should work with other EU countries to find a common solution to the problem.

Read more: CSU leader Horst Seehofer: The man who could bring down Angela Merkel?

Seehofer and his Christian Social Union (CSU) party has clashed with Merkel, who leads the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on refugee policy. Merkel must now attempt to build a solution with EU partners by the beginning of July.

Merkel is reportedly aiming to negotiate individual deals with Germany's neighbors to allow Berlin to refuse refugees who have already been registered in another EU country. France and Italy have already agreed to a similar arrangement.

Read more: Italian PM Giuseppe Conte says row with Emmanuel Macron over, calls for EU immigration reform

Italy-France dispute

Conte's own anti-establishment government had a separate dispute with French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the week after Italy's anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, refused to allow a ship carrying more than 600 migrants and operated by a charity organization to dock at an Italian port.

Conte lashed out at the French president after Macron's spokesman said Italy had acted with "cynicism and a measure of irresponsibility" in refusing to allow the ship, which has since arrived in Spain, to dock.

amp/kl (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)

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