Merkel Presses EU to Reach `Milestone' Refugee Deal at Summit

  • Chancellor criticizes EU discord, upholds Turkey as partner
  • Bickering `isn't to Europe's credit,'' German leader says

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged fellow European Union leaders to lock in “decisive” progress on the refugee crisis at a summit this week and stood firm in rejecting intra-EU border closings as a permanent solution.

Addressing the lower house of parliament a day before the summit in Brussels, Merkel criticized disunity and national measures by other EU countries and held up Turkey as the central partner in stemming the influx of people fleeing Syria and other regions. She exhorted EU leaders to rally around a plan that provides for Turkey to take back asylum seekers rejected by EU countries and a controlled system to channel arriving refugees into the bloc.

“It isn’t to Europe’s credit that, as a union of 28 member states and 500 million citizens, we’ve found it so hard to share the burden,” Merkel said Wednesday in Berlin.

Fresh from her Christian Democratic Union’s losses to an anti-immigration party in state elections last weekend, Merkel signaled she intends to buck opposition at home and among other EU governments as she heads into the summit with the pan-European approach she’s championed for months. Meanwhile, countries from Austria through the western Balkans to Macedonia have mostly closed their borders to asylum seekers, bottling them up in places such as Idomeni in northern Greece.

Merkel condemned the unilateral actions as short-sighted and a threat to EU unity, citing the suffering of tens of thousands of refugees stuck in Greece as a reason to pursue a broad-based solution.

“If all of these building blocks lead to an overall strategy, then we could indeed achieve a sustainable, sound and common European resolution,” she said in her speech. The two-day summit “will be a further -- I would also say decisive -- milestone, without being able to say what exactly the decision will look like.”

EU and Turkey

Nine days after Turkey made a proposal to take back refugee fleeing across the Aegean Sea into Greece in exchange for more funds, visa waivers and further EU accession talks, Merkel said the EU won’t compromise on its principles and that membership for Turkey isn’t a foregone conclusion.

“What’s decisive is that the outcome of the European Union’s membership talks with Turkey remains open-ended, and purely based on that fact it follows that Turkey joining the European Union surely isn’t on the agenda right now,” Merkel said to applause from lawmakers.

At the same time, Merkel is defying critics within her party bloc by seeking a Europewide solution after many CDU voters turned to the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, in three regional elections on Sunday.

If EU countries rely on the fix of border closings that just shift the migrations patterns, “the disappointment for citizens would be much greater in the end than the concerns they have now,” Merkel said.

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