STRASBOURG (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande stressed on Sunday the migrant crisis, which brought more than a million people to the European Union last year, needs an EU-level solution.
The two leaders were meeting in Strasbourg on the Franco-German border to discuss the agenda of the next European summit on Feb. 18-19. They had a private meeting before joining EU Parliament Chairman Martin Schulz for dinner.
Merkel, who opened her country’s borders to Syrians fleeing civil war last summer, is under increasing pressure to limit the influx.
A poll published this week indicated popular support for Merkel had tumbled to a four-and-a-half-year low, with more than 80 percent of Germans doubting her government had the refugee crisis under control.
The crisis has strained relations between EU member states and tested their commitment to Europe’s open-borders Schengen agreement.
Hollande and Merkel agreed the action plan defined by the European Commission was a priority, a source close to the French president said.
The plan involves assistance to Greece to control its borders, reinforcing its means to register refugees but also a fight against smugglers and the acceleration of procedures to expel illegal migrants.
It also includes a package for Turkey to help it curb the influx of migrants into Europe.
Germany’s anti-Islam PEGIDA movement staged rallies in several cities across Europe on Saturday, including one gathering up to 8,000 people in the eastern city of Dresden, to protest against the massive arrivals.
Separately, the two leaders also expressed a “strong common concern” about the situation in Syria, the French source said.
Russian and Syrian government forces on Saturday intensified an assault on rebel-held areas around the Syrian city of Aleppo that has prompted tens of thousands to flee to the Turkish border to seek refuge.
Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac, writing by Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by Susan Thomas