June 28, 2018 / 7:05 PM / 25 days ago

France signals EU states refusing to take migrants could tackle crisis in other ways

PARIS (Reuters) - France, seeking to break a European Union impasse over migrants, favors allowing member states that refuse to take a share of a Brussels-imposed quota to provide more money to the EU border agency or to other elements of the bloc’s response to the crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel take part in a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium June 28, 2018. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS

(Graphic on asylum applications: tmsnrt.rs/2txGJM3)

Splits run deep over how to respond to an influx of migrants that has weakened European unity, helped bring populists to power in some countries, most recently Italy, and now threatens to unravel German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and French President Emmanuel Macron take part in a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium June 28, 2018. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS

At the heart of the problem is how to share the burden of asylum seekers.

Mediterranean frontline states, in particular, Italy and Greece, have demanded that all countries host some refugees as a way to demonstrate solidarity. They have traditionally been backed by rich destination countries including France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

Their four ex-communist peers Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic, however, refuse to accept migrants, saying that would threaten their security.

“The principal of solidarity is non-negotiable. We can, though, reflect on how solidarity is shown,” an aide to French President Emmanuel Macron briefed reporters on the summit sidelines.

French President Emmanuel Macron talks to the media as he arrives at an European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier

Asked how else solidarity might be shown, the official said: “It could be a material or financial contribution to Frontex (border agency), it could be a financial contribution to the training of Libya’s coastguard, to development projects in North Africa.”

On a tour of Eastern Europe last August, Macron said the mandatory quota system was flawed, and in December European Council Chairman Donald Tusk, a Pole, described them the quotas as “ineffective” and “highly divisive”.

But Merkel, the bloc’s paramount national leader, stood firm in her support of quotas. Six months on, the survival of her government is at stake as her conservative Bavarian allies threaten to shut their borders if she fails to strike a deal.

Italy’s new anti-establishment government may be particularly hard to convince.

Macron met the leaders of the so-called Visegrad 4 — Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic — for an hour before the summit got underway.

“The Visegrad countries noted with interest that there has been an opening on the modalities of solidarity,” the aide said, adding discussions with the four would continue in the weeks ahead.

Editing by William Maclean

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