Merkel Pressed on Migration as EU’s Post-Brexit Divisions Bared

  • German chancellor faces four eastern EU leaders in Warsaw
  • ‘Deep watershed’ moment in EU’s history cited by Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel faced pressure from eastern European countries to tighten barriers against migration, exposing differing priorities as the European Union seeks to map the way forward after Britain’s vote to leave.

Merkel’s calls for EU nations to open up to immigrants from war-torn regions were brushed off in Warsaw, where the leaders of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia stressed on Friday that security was their top concern and that migration policy should be decided at the national level, not by EU officials in Brussels.

Merkel, who spent the week canvassing opinion across Europe ahead of an EU summit without Britain, cited the twin challenges of security and economic growth as leaders prepare to meet in the Slovak capital of Bratislava on Sept. 16.

“People will accept Europe only if it holds out the promise of prosperity,” Merkel told reporters before talks with the four eastern European leaders. “Britain’s exit isn’t just some event, but rather a deep watershed in the history of European Union integration.”

Poland, the biggest recipient of funds from the EU budget, wants to shore up the EU’s external borders and tackle the migrant crisis through humanitarian efforts in the Middle East and northern Africa, rather than allowing foreigners in, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said alongside the other four leaders.

Merkel’s Tour

Szydlo’s government, embroiled in a standoff with Brussels over Poland’s democratic track record, wants to revamp EU rules to limit powers of the European Commission in Brussels, while also strengthening the bloc’s internal market and preserving free-movement privileges for EU citizens, including nearly 1 million Poles living in the U.K.

Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban urged the commission to stop “playing politics” and yield power to national capitals, a move opposed by some of the EU’s founding members.

Merkel, the leader of Europe’s biggest economy, began the week of shuttle diplomacy by meeting French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. She then headed to the Estonian capital of Tallinn, Prague and Warsaw before two more rounds of talks with fellow EU leaders in Berlin on Friday and Saturday.

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