Merkel and Orban clash over migrant policy amid EU divisions

Home / Merkel and Orban clash over migrant policy amid EU divisions

The sharp divisions within the European Union over migrant policy were clearly visible in Berlin on Thursday as German chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister.

Mrs Merkel did her best to be diplomatic. “There were common points of view, but also opposing ones, as was to be expected. We see the migration issue very differently,” she told a joint press conference.

Mr Orban was blunter. “What we already knew has become clear: the chancellor and I see the world differently. Nevertheless, we strive for a common solution,” he said.

Mrs Merkel, who narrowly survived a rebellion within her own government over migrant policy this week, has been pushing for a common EU solution to relieve the pressure on frontline countries such as Italy and Greece.

But Mr Orban has led resistance from a bloc of central European countries who have refused to accept any form of quotas, and has sealed Hungary’s borders against migrants.

Mr Orban has led resistance on accepting any form of migrant quotasCredit:

“If you will allow me to say a sentence about solidarity, it hurts us when Germany accuses us of showing no solidarity,” he said.

Hungary is “taking an immense load off Germany’s shoulders” by guarding its southern border with Serbia and Croatia, he added. “I told the Chancellor she can count on the fact that the southern Hungarian border is protected: migrants are not coming to Austria or Germany. And it will stay that way.”

Mrs Merkel countered: “The problem I see, and the difference between us, is that we always have to remember that it is people who are coming to us. It is a question of Europe’s basic humanity. Europe cannot simply decouple from hardship and suffering.”

The two leaders clashed as Horst Seehofer, the German interior minister, held talks with Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, to defuse a row over plans to set up transit camps for migrants at the German-Austrian border.

Austria reacted furiously this week after Germany announced the plans as a compromise between Mr Seehofer and Mrs Merkel, warning it would take steps to protect its own borders with Italy and Slovenia, and raising fears of a domino effect across Europe.

Mr Kurz and Mr Seehofer played down the dispute on Thursday, claiming they had found common ground.

They announced they wanted to close the southern migrant route to Europe across the Mediterranean, and planned to hold discussions with Italy on the issue.

“It is in the interest not only of Italy, but also Austria and Germany, if the migration pressure on this route is less,” Mr Kurz said.

In part, this was an attempt to show that Mr Kurz’s “axis of the willing”, made up of Austria, Italy and Bavaria, is still united on the migrant issue. But the two men offered no concrete proposals on how to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

Nor did they appear to resolve the issues that divide them over the planned transit camps in the German-Austrian border.

Mr Seehofer wants to use the camps to refuse entry to migrants who are already registered in another EU state. But several countries including Italy have refused to take back migrants stopped at the camps, leading to Austrian fears it will be forced to accept them.

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“We will neither now nor in the future make Austria responsible for migrants who aren’t their responsibility,” Mr Seehofer said. “That was never our intention, and I can rule it out today and for the future.”

He offered no explanation of what Germany would do with migrants it could not deport to other EU countries. 

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