EU backs German border controls, urges backing of migrant plan

by Reuters
Sunday, 13 September 2015 21:43 GMT

(Adds EU governments still at odds over Juncker plan)

By Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS, Sept 13 (Reuters) - The European Commission said Germany appeared legally justified in reimposing border controls with Austria on Sunday, saying the move showed the need for EU states to back the executive's proposed plans for refugees.

"The temporary reintroduction of border controls between member states is an exceptional possibility explicitly foreseen in and regulated by the Schengen Borders Code, in case of a crisis situation," the Commission said in a statement.

"The current situation in Germany, prima facie, appears to be a situation covered by the rules."

It added that the executive would keep the situation under review and said the aim would be to return to the normal situation of no border checks between member states of the Schengen zone "as soon as feasible".

Germany reimposed the controls after acknowledging it could scarcely cope with thousands of asylum seekers arriving each day. Migrant arrivals have soared since German Chancellor Angela Merkel effectively opened German borders to refugees a week ago.

"The German decision of today underlines the urgency to agree on the measures proposed by the European Commission in order to manage the refugee crisis," the Commission said.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who spoke to Merkel shortly before her government made the decision public, has been pressing reluctant eastern European governments to support Commission proposals, which Germany backs, to redistribute asylum-seekers around Europe.

Juncker also spoke to the Hungarian, Czech and Slovak leaders on Sunday, seeking to break their collective resistance to his plans before EU interior ministers debate them at an emergency meeting at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) on Monday.

However, diplomats said talks among envoys in Brussels throughout Sunday evening had failed to break the deadlock. They will resume at 8 a.m. to review compromises being drafted through the night. However, division is such that decisions may be largely postponed until an Oct. 8 ministerial meeting.

Among arguments EU and German officials have used to press eastern leaders who say their societies cannot take in large numbers of immigrants have been warnings that failure to fix a common plan on migration could wreck the Schengen open borders system which is especially valued in formerly communist states.

"The free movement of people under Schengen is a unique symbol of European integration," the Commission statement said.

"However, the other side of the coin is a better joint management of our external borders and more solidarity in coping with the refugee crisis. This is why Monday's extraordinary council of interior ministers is so important. We need swift progress on the Commission's proposals now."

Diplomats said after talks in Brussels on Sunday that Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were refusing to accept the compulsory distribution of 120,000 asylum seekers - even though Hungary, which has taken in large numbers, would benefit.

An earlier plan to relocate 40,000 from Italy and Greece is expected to be given a legal green light by ministers, partly because it is voluntary - a result of EU leaders blocking a Juncker proposal for mandatory quotas in June. Ministers may also toughen Commission language on deporting illegal migrants. (Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Dominic Evans and Paul Simao)

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