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Chancellor Merkel has sought to downplay expectations from this week's EU summit for a European solution. The mini-summit of 16 EU leaders created "a lot of goodwill" to discuss EU disagreements on migration, she said.
At an emergency meeting of various European leaders on Sunday German Chancellor Angela Merkel downplayed expectations that the EU summit next Thursday will be able to come to a full agreement to deal with the bloc's management of migration.
Merkel instead advocated bilateral and trilateral deals to cope with migrants in Europe in the interim: "The European Council will not yet provide an overall solution to the migration problem," Merkel said, conceding a lack of consensus among EU members. "That is why it is also about bilateral or trilateral agreements for mutual benefit."
"Wherever possible we want European solutions. Where this is not possible we want to bring those who are willing together and find a common framework for action," Merkel said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, Merkel's closest partner in the bloc, also echoed her suggestion of members acting in smaller groups. The French president also reiterated his call for establishing reception centers for migrants based on international human rights law.
Macron and Merkel were two of 16 EU leaders who met in Brussels for the informal talks in a bid to iron out differences over migration policies. The mini-summit took place amid domestic disagreements in Germany over the issue of migration and a crackdown on NGO rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea.
Several countries that have resisted European efforts to implement a quota system for asylum-seekers, including Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, did not attend.
The 16 which were represented were Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Greece, Malta, Bulgaria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Sweden and Luxembourg.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Merkel said the meeting had created "a lot of goodwill" to discuss EU disagreements on migration. She added that the leaders agreed that Europe's outer borders needed to be better protected to keep people from entering illegally.
Europe's migrant management problem
The political strife over migration into Europe has worsened in recent weeks even as the number of migrants arriving in Europe has continued to drop, with Italy's new populist government refusing to let ships carrying hundreds of migrants dock at its ports and various governments pushing back against the idea of distributing asylum-seekers throughout the bloc.
After turning away the Aquarius NGO rescue ship, which later docked in Spain, Italy said it would block the Lifeline vessel operated by the German NGO Mission Lifeline.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he was "decidedly satisfied" with Sunday's meeting in Brussels. "We have steered the debate that is under way in the right direction," Conte said in a tweet. He presented a 10-point plan that described the existing EU asylum rules as out-of-date and "paradoxical" and called for their overhaul.
Currently, asylum-seekers are supposed to register in their country of arrival, usually Italy or Greece. Italy and other EU nations, such as France, want all the bloc's members to accept their share of migrants entering the EU or face financial penalties — something that various non-attending countries, such as Hungary and Poland, reject.
The German chancellor said the EU leaders present agreed that "all countries should share all the burdens" related to migration. "We cannot leave the countries of entry alone, as that would mean that they have to solve all the problems on their own," she said.
Spain's new premier, the socialist Pedro Sanchez, said, "Everyone agreed on the need to have a European vision; a common position on a common challenge." However, he conceded there were no "concrete consequences or conclusions" from Sunday's meeting.
German coalition difficulties
For Merkel, Sunday's meeting was an attempt to stabilize a shaky domestic political union at home. The inconclusive result means she still needs to find an EU-wide solution by the end of this month to avert further aggravating internal rifts in her government coalition.
If she fails, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, of Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) party, has threatened to refuse entry to people at the border if they had already been refused asylum, or had applied for asylum elsewhere in the 28-member bloc.
Merkel, who heads the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has argued against unilateral action, saying migrant policy can only be effectively agreed and implemented at the European level.
But a European solution to the refugee problem has eluded the German chancellor despite her efforts over the past three years to get EU leaders to forge a joint approach to a divisive issue which is now back at the heart of the EU.
In Brussels, Luxembourg's prime minister, Xavier Bettel, reminded other leaders that Sunday's meeting was not just about stabilizing the German government: "It is not about the survival of a chancellor, it is about finding common solution to a common migration and asylum policy in Europe."
cmb, ap/se (Reuters, AP, dpa)