Merkel in bid to save German coalition with asylum-seeker deal

EU members at summit agree on processing centres for refugees and to bolster Frontex

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, French president Emmanuel Macron, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and German chancellor Angela Merkel at an EU summit   breakfast meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, French president Emmanuel Macron, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban and German chancellor Angela Merkel at an EU summit breakfast meeting in Brussels. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel has faced down her rebellious coalition allies after securing EU and bilateral agreements to reduce asylum seeker numbers in Europe and Germany.

There were indications on Friday night that the deal reached after marathon talks at the EU summit in Brussels would be enough to prevent the collapse this weekend of Germany’s newly formed coalition government.

Dr Merkel’s hardline interior minister, Horst Seehofer of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), had threatened to close German borders to asylum seekers from Monday in the absence of satisfactory burden-sharing deals on migration at the Brussels summit.

The executive board of the CSU, a sister party to Dr Merkel’s CDU, is to meet on Sunday to decide whether the results of the Brussels summit go far enough to meet its demands.

Leaders agreed on a number of measures including the establishment of asylum-processing centres both inside and outside the EU, as well as a beefing-up of the EU’s border force, Frontex. Much of what was agreed was aspirational in tone, however, and practical details remained to be worked out.

Nevertheless, Dr Merkel said what had been achieved was “more than perhaps even I thought [possible]” and indicated it should be more than enough to meet the CSU’s demands.

Encouraging signal

Neither Mr Seehofer nor Bavarian state premier Markus Söder, also of the CSU, responded immediately to the deal, but other senior party figures called the Brussels paper an encouraging signal that could be the basis of compromise.

The proposed reception control centres to be set up under the deal will be established only in EU states that volunteer to host them.

This prompted Hungary’s prime minister to claim “a great victory” for the so-called Visegrad group, comprising Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, which has resisted attempts to impose migrant quotas on all member states.

The divisive debate over migration dominated the two-day summit, but concerns also emerged that EU leaders are likely to reject anticipated British proposals to remain in the single market for goods, raising the prospect of a mid-summer breakdown in the Brexit negotiations.

The British are expected to produce the proposals for partial membership of the single market and customs union in a White Paper after a crunch cabinet meeting next week.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Friday that British prime minister Theresa May briefed him on the White Paper at a bilateral meeting at the EU summit on Thursday night and that he warned her there was “no point” in producing proposals that would be rejected by the EU.

British ‘cherrypicking’

EU leaders made clear that any British proposals for partial membership of the single market would be regarded as “cherrypicking” and would not be acceptable.

Officials fear rejection of the heavily leaked British proposals could prompt the negotiations to come to a full stop in the coming weeks. Talks are due to begin again next week.

The Taoiseach said that while there could be special arrangements for the North, these could not be extended to the whole of the UK.

“That would really be the beginning of the end of the single market. We really regret that the UK has decided to leave the European Union. We are not going to let them destroy the European Union,” he said.

Following summit conclusions that urged member states to prepare for all eventualities including no-deal Brexit, Mr Varadkar said the Government would bring forward contingency planning for the event of a no-deal Brexit. However, he said the Government would not prepare for the reimposition of a hard border.