German Chancellor Angela Merkel has secured the consent of 16 European Union member states for the rapid return of migrants who first arrived in other countries, according to a document seen by German news outlets on Saturday.
The countries listed are Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Sweden.
Austria, whose chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, is an immigration hardliner, was noticeably absent from the list.
Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic contradict Merkel
Following reports of the deal, a spokesman for the Hungarian government denied that Budapest has agreed to a migrant repatriation system with Germany.
"No such deal has been reached," Zoltan Kovacs said.
Soon after, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis also denied there was a migrant deal with Berlin, as did a spokesman for the Polish Foreign Ministry.
"This alarming news is complete nonsense," he said. "Germany did not approach us, and in this moment I would not ratify such an agreement."
Subsequently, a spokesman for the German government responded by saying that "the Czech side had expressed willingness to negotiate an administrative deal on improvement of cooperation for returning the migrants in the future."
"We regretfully accept today's comments from Prague," the German official added.
Merkel calls for 'anchor centers'
The document also calls for large "anchor centers" to be set up at Germany's border to process migrants. According to German news agency DPA, another facet of her plan is to send German police to Bulgaria to assist in patrolling the EU's outer border. A deal has reportedly already been reached with Sofia.
"We must also be prepared to help support Slovenia and Croatia with border control if necessary," she said.
The chancellor also intends to reinforce Frontex, the EU border security forces, active on Greece's borders with Macedonia and Albania, before the end of August.
Immigration has been one of Merkel's biggest challenges since the refugee crisis of 2015, when her decision to keep Germany's borders open was met with widespread acclaim and equal amounts of criticism. More recently, it has presented her with the biggest challenge she has yet faced from within her own ranks.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, the former premier of Bavaria, has been pressuring Merkel to close Germany's borders and has even implied that he may pull his party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), from the governing coalition. Though he later said he did not want to 'topple' Merkel over migration.
DW's chief political editor Michaela Küfner said Merkel met with Seehofer on Saturday night, though neither made public comments after the meeting. Merkel was expected to argue the deal with 14 EU nations was enough to meet the CSU's demands.
Spain, Greece already on board
The chancellor had already announced some progress at a summit of EU leaders on Friday, when Spain and Greece agreed to take back migrants who are already registered in those countries.
Although migrants are supposed to be processed in the first EU nation in which they arrive according to the Dublin Agreement, studies show that only 15 percent of asylum seekers have been sent back to their first port of entry.
Merkel insisted on Saturday that the deals were "more than equivalent" to the CSU's demands, and denied interpretations that this allows the Bavarians to close the border.
"Unilateral measures at the expense of other countries are not what is meant," said a government spokesman, adding that no special "internal" measures were included either.
SPD welcomes deal, skeptical of camps
Merkel's coalition partners the Social Democrats (SPD), said on Saturday that they welcomed most of the chancellor's plan.
But, SPD chief Andrea Nahles said, they would not stand behind "closed" refugee camps, and that they were skeptical of sending migrants to camps outside of the EU, citing concerns over humanitarian conditions in centers.
While CSU head Seehofer did not immediately comment on the Merkel's letter, his close ally Markus Söder, the premier of Bavaria, signaled his approval.
"It absolutely goes in the right direction," he said of Merkel's suggestion and the EU migrant agreement from earlier this week.
es,dj/sms (dpa, Reuters)