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World

AFP
June 14, 2018

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Hardline EU ministers form ‘axis of the willing’ against illegal migrants

BERLIN: The hardline interior ministers of Austria, Germany and Italy have formed an “axis of the willing” to combat illegal immigration, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Wednesday, escalating a Europe-wide row over the issue.

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The announcement by Kurz in Berlin after talks with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer marks a shot across the bow at Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is trying to pull together a deal for EU cooperation on placing asylum seekers.

Seehofer — who is locked in an open migration feud with Merkel that is threatening the stability of her coalition government — said that he and his far-right Austrian and Italian counterparts, Herbert Kickl and Matteo Salvini, formed their alliance this week. Their cooperation would extend to “issues of security and terrorism”, he said, but did not offer specifics on what it would entail. Kurz, whose country assumes the EU’s rotating presidency on July 1, said he welcomed the “good cooperation that we want to develop between Rome, Vienna and Berlin”. “I think it marks very sensible cooperation that will contribute to reducing illegal migration to Europe,” Kurz told reporters at a convivial news conference with Seehofer, in marked contrast to the far more formal exchange he had with Merkel late Tuesday.

“We believe an axis of the willing is needed to fight illegal migration.” The use of the phrase raised eyebrows on social media for its echoes of the World War II alliance between fascist powers, as well as the deep divisions in Europe left by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 backed by a “coalition of the willing”. Merkel, widely seen as Europe’s most prominent proponent of a generous refugee policy, has firmly rejected a plan put forward by Seehofer to turn back at German borders any asylum seeker already registered in another EU country. She argues that her country should not go it alone while Europe searches for a common policy.

Seehofer has won support from Salvini, who on Monday flatly refused to allow a rescue vessel carrying hundreds of migrants to dock. The move was sharply criticised by France, touching off a bitter dispute between the European heavyweights. Despite the gulf between them, Seehofer insisted Wednesday that he was committed to striking a compromise with Merkel this week, although what shape it would take appeared completely unknown.

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