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German, Italian, Austrian ministers seek 'axis' on migrant policy

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and Austria's chancellor Sebastian Kurz attend a news conference in Berlin, Germany, June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Joachim Herrmann

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany should ally itself with Austria and Italy on migration and security policies, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday, a shift that could prove uncomfortable for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Standing alongside Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Seehofer said he had spoken to the Italian interior minister, “and it was his wish that Rome, Vienna and Berlin should work together at the interior minister level in the areas of security, fighting terrorism and the core issue of immigration.”

“I accepted that ... And we will push ahead with it,” Seehofer told a news conference in Berlin.

Kurz, who heads a right-wing coalition, said: “In our view, we need an axis of the willing in the fight against illegal migration.”

The comments come as European divisions over how to handle migration have been exacerbated by the case of the Aquarius, a migrant rescue ship operated by a Franco-German charity that Italy has refused to let dock in its ports.

The proposed “axis” would put Merkel’s Germany - which has taken in more than 1.6 million migrants since 2014 - with the new Italian government and its interior minister, Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right League party, who made the decision to turn away the Aquarius.

Seehofer, of the Bavarian conservative CSU party, has put himself on a collision course with Merkel by proposing, as part of a national “migrant masterplan”, that Germany should turn away at the border migrants registered in other EU states.

That would represent a reversal of Merkel’s open-doors migrant policy adopted in 2015, which fuelled a rise in support for the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) and caused rifts within her conservative bloc.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Tom Koerkemeier; Editing by Robin Pomeroy