Merkel, Hollande urge EU states to unite to tackle refugee crisis

The choice is a stronger EU or bloc’s end, French and German leaders tell parliament

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

 

The leaders of France and Germany called on European Union member states to put their differences behind them as they tackle the refugee crisis, urging the EU to show unity in the face of the biggest migratory influx witnessed in Europe for generations.

Nearly 26 years after Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand addressed the European Parliament, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande took to the floor of the parliamentary chamber in Strasbourg on Wednesday to set out their vision for Europe.

Both stressed the need for “more Europe” to deal with the various challenges facing the EU, including the euro-zone crisis and the refugee emergency that has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants flee the Middle East for Europe.

“The debate isn’t between more Europe or less Europe, but between the strengthening of Europe or the end of Europe,” the French president said.

“The return of national borders, the dismantling of EU policies, the abandonment of the euro – that would be the end of Europe.”

Amid expectations that justice and home-affairs ministers meeting today in Luxembourg will discuss measures to accelerate the deportation of illegal migrants entering Europe to their countries of origin, Dr Merkel said all migrants, “whether they have the prospect of remaining in Europe or not”, should be seen as “people”, and “humanitarian standards” of accommodation and asylum-processing should be upheld.

The German chancellor said the Dublin agreement, a cornerstone of EU asylum policy which obliges refugees to seek asylum in the member state where they first arrive, was no longer working, and she called on all member states to share the burden of accepting migrants.

Noting that it was France “which often takes the initiative” in the realm of foreign policy and security, Mr Hollande called for a strengthening of foreign and defence policy, as he warned of a “total war” if Europe did not face up to the situation in Syria and the region, calling for an alternative to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State.

With the forthcoming British referendum on EU membership notably absent from either speech, the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, criticised the German chancellor for her country’s policy on migration.

“You compounded the already failing and flawed EU common asylum policy by saying to the whole world: ‘Please come to Europe’,” he said, claiming 80 per cent of those arriving were not Syrian refugees.

The EU justice and home- affairs ministers meeting today in Luxembourg to discuss the latest developments in the EU’s response to the migration plan do so as the first refugees under the EU’s relocation plan prepare to be transferred from Italy to Sweden tomorrow.

A specially convened conference with the Balkan states is also scheduled for today, as the EU tries to tackle the flow of migrants entering the bloc through the Balkan states.

Representatives from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and other non-EU Schengen countries affected by the crisis will also attend.

Next Monday, at their scheduled meeting, EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the migration crisis and the escalating conflict in Syria, while migration is expected to dominate the summit of EU leaders in Brussels next Thursday and Friday.

On Wednesday, the EU launched its first mission to intercept and seize boats smuggling refugees in the Mediterranean, though the mission is confined to EU waters.

While EU vessels have already been involved in search and rescue missions, they began a new operation – termed Operation Sophia – to actively seize boats on Wednesday. Any incursion into Libyan waters would need a United Nations Security Council mandate.