June 19, 2018
Why no deal will be good enough to satisfy Seehofer
It is interesting that German commentators who have appealed to the national interest are now getting very scared. Berthold Kohler, one of the editors of FAZ, discovers that the future of the EU is at stake, not just that of the German government. Those who negotiate bilateral deals with Angela Merkel should bear this in mind.
That statement would have been a lot more credible if Germany had acted differently during the eurozone crisis. There is a sense in some quarters in Germany that the EU owes Merkel a favour for her relentless support during the eurozone crisis. An astonishing parallel universe of perceptions has opened up.
Aside from this commentator’s rather narrow views, the paper’s assessment of the situation in the EU is spot-on. It has a very useful survey of political opinion in the countries with which Merkel is likely to negotiate. The first is Italy. Giuseppe Conte was over at Merkel’s office for a visit. He is under clear instructions from his two coalition partners, in particular Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister, who supports Horst Seehofer. The Italian position is that they are open to a deal with Germany, but they want to see a reform of the Dublin regulation first. Salvini has ordered the Italian coast guard and navy to patrol closer to the Italian border, leaving France, Spain and Portugal to pick up refugees in the Mediterranean. No foreign-registered ship with refugees on board will from now on be allowed access to Italian ports. What’s more, one opinion poll has the Lega surpassing Five Star for the first time. Salvini is getting stronger.
FAZ notes there is no chance of a bilateral German-Italian deal simply because Italy insists on a fair sharing of immigrants throughout the EU. This is blocked not by Germany but by the Visegrad countries. The paper notes that Italy already has a bilateral deal going with France, agreed in 1996 between Romano Prodi and President Jacques Chirac. But this deal is not working well as both countries are shipping asylum seekers to each other across the border. Corriere della Sera notes that Conte told Merkel that the current system is dysfunctional and needs to be reformed. Merkel agrees with him, but it is not in her powers to deliver the reform.
It should come as no surprise that bilateral deals are not well-suited to the Schengen area. We agree with Merkel’s position that the best solution would be EU-wide, or at least Schengen-wide. The alternative, however, cannot be a series of bilateral deals, but a suspension of Schengen. Merkel is open to Italian suggestions to help fund refugee camps in Northern Africa, but there is no way Italy will voluntarily accept refugees back once they have crossed the German border.
FAZ also notes that Bulgaria, a transit country, is unlikely to be co-operative. It quotes a former spokeswoman of the foreign ministry as saying that the government could not conceivably afford to accept taking back asylum seekers from Germany - not even for money. The money-for-refugee paradigm, so popular in Germany, misjudges Bulgaria’s political interests. What Bulgaria might demand instead is a strong political counter-deal - membership of Schengen and the eurozone spring to mind.
That thought alone shows that the bilateral talks will be full of demands that are unrelated to refugees. Italy will demand some fiscal reprieve, Bulgaria wants German support for euro membership, and Greece may demand debt relief. It is not as though the CSU would happily agree to that either.