Francois Hollande says Franco-German relations strong
Ahead of joint cabinet meeting French president warns against unilateral moves on migrant crisis
German chancellor Angela Merkel: she had an open-door policy last year towards Syrian asylum seekers. Photograph: EPA/Britta Pedersen
French president François Hollande has drawn a line under migration crisis discord with Germany, but warned that a repeat of last year’s unilateral moves by Berlin endangered the Schengen free travel area.
Ahead of a joint cabinet meeting today in the German border city of Metz, Mr Hollande rejected suggestions that the EU’s driving Franco-German engine was in trouble. He pointed to the close diplomatic co-operation in the Ukraine-Russian stand-off and eventual agreement in the euro crisis.
In the migration crisis, however, Paris and Berlin have been in open disagreement, in particular over chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy last year towards Syrian asylum seekers.
After the recent EU-Turkey migration deal, however, Mr Hollande insisted the main thing was that the EU had returned to its long-standing asylum rules to preserve the struggling Schengen area.
Months of not applying the rules, he said, had lead to “certain countries to take one-sided measures” – a nod to border closures to stop the flow of migrants in Austria and elsewhere down the so-called Balkan Route.
“The solution has to be European,” he said. “Everything else would mean an end of Schengen and a return to national borders – a historic setback. Until a few days ago this danger was very real.”
Mr Hollande’s carefully chosen words contrast with the more blunt tone of his prime minister, Manuel Valls, who argued in the first months of this year that Germany’s migration proposals were “unsustainable in the long term” and a threat to European stability.
In addition, Mr Valls said France rejected a permanent relocation mechanism and would not accept any more than the 30,000 asylum seekers over two years it signed up to last year.
Bild asked if, given Germany accepted one million asylum seekers last year, the French contribution classified as “European solidarity”.
France’s Socialist president said Europe’s crises had closed an initial personal gap with Dr Merkel, leader of Germany’s centre-right Christian Democratic Union.
But after a series of violent Islamist attacks – twice in Paris, Brussels and northern Africa – he said it was “unbearable” that Europe had yet agreed closer intelligence sharing.
“In the end we [in Europe] always succeed in finding a solution . . . but we always have to pay a high price for the time lost,” Mr Hollande said.
Meanwhile, Germany has said it will consider lifting its temporary border controls with Austria in May, after eight months, should the number of migrants continue to drop.
“We would not extend the border controls beyond May 12th if the numbers remain this low,” Thomas de Maizière, federal interior minister, told Austria’s ORF broadcaster.
Mr de Maizière said the number of asylum-seekers had plunged in February, following border clampdowns by Austria and other countries along the Balkan route. These measures were criticised by Berlin at the time.
Ahead of today’s Franco-German meeting, a poll by the French Ifop agency suggests that two-thirds of Germans and 72 per cent of French people favour an end to the Schengen open-borders arrangement.
In Italy, for years on the front lines of the migration crisis, that number was 60 per cent.