June 20, 2018
Does Macron support Merkel over refugees?
We were struck by the main headline in FAZ this morning: Macron supports Angela Merkel in her refugee policies. Is this true?
Macron said he agrees with Merkel that both want to achieve a harmonisation of asylum law in the EU. And their joint declaration condemns unilateral and un-coordinated action that would endanger Schengen. This is a clear snipe at Horst Seehofer's declared intention to send migrants back, starting July.
We consider this a fairly meaningless statement since progress for an EU wide deal is held up by the refusal of countries to agree to binding quotas. France is one of them, and Macron has not shifted his position. And we doubt very much that the likes of Matteo Salvini and Seehofer will be impressed by the joint declaration. Seehofer said European efforts had failed, and that it was time for domestic solutions. And Salvini has previously talked about an exit from Schengen. We are not sure what problem this would solve for him. Most of Italy's refugees do not come across the Schengen border, and he could flood the EU with unregistered refugees if he keept that border open - a much more potent weapon than a Schengen exit.
Stephan Löwenstein has an informed comment in FAZ on the role of Austria in this debate, the country that will take over the EU presidency as of July. Sebastian Kurz is a political ally of Seehofer and of Jens Spahn, Angela Merkel's conservative opponent inside the CDU. Kurz and Spahn were spotted having a coffee in a public cafe in Berlin. Vienna is also outwardly relaxed about Seehofer's threat to send back registered migrants - even though they would be sent back at the Austrian border. But Löwenstein notes that the position of the German and the Austrian right are hardly compatible, since they have different material interests.
Vienna's main focus in its EU presidency will be the protection of the EU's external border, and in particular the strengthening of Frontex. This is obviously not a project that can be implemented within a short time. Even if the European Council agreed on a road map for reform of Frontex, we doubt it would be sufficient to bring the likes of Seehofer and Salvini on board. Merkel's problem remains unresolved.