These two thorny issues for the European Union (EU) are at the heart of this latest informal exchange of views between the two leaders in Strasbourg, a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, a week ahead of an EU summit meeting on Feb. 18 and 19, in Brussels.
On the menu will be how to absorb the waves of refugees arriving in Europe via Greece and Turkey, and the ongoing negotiations with the British government to avoid “Brexit.” Britain will hold an in-out referendum on its EU membership, possibly in June this year.
Determined to defend the Schengen agreement, Paris and Berlin will explore solutions surrounding the so-called “hot spots” (reception centers for refugees), deportation of illegal immigrants, control of the Greek-Turkish border and the redistribution of refugees, says one diplomatic source.
No declaration is scheduled following the meeting of the two leaders, who will dine with European Parliament President Martin Schulz at a restaurant in Strasbourg’s historic center.
This meeting is the latest in what is known as the Blaesheim process, informal meetings over dinner between the French and German leaders. Originally intended to bolster the EU’s “Franco-German motor” to map out a long-term vision for Europe, various crises in the EU have accumulated to the point that short-term management has taken over. At their previous informal meeting in Strasbourg on Jan. 30, 2015 the possibility of Greece being forced out of the Eurozone (“Grexit”) occupied Merkel and Hollande.
The EU, under threat from internal divisions and the failure of its migration policy, is now facing an unprecedented crisis that poses a growing threat to the sustainability of the Schengen area.
Greece is accused by Brussels of “serious deficiencies” in its management of the migrant influx and has suggested that Athens could jeopardize the functioning of the European free movement area. Some political leaders have even suggested a temporary suspension of Greece from the Schengen area.
The European Commission (EC) has started a procedure which could see a two-year extension of controls over some internal borders of the EU that have already reintroduced.
Divisions are growing between proponents of a comprehensive EU response, and those, such as UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who argue that only through regaining sovereignty and controlling their own borders can EU countries face up to the migration crisis.
In June, the British should vote in a referendum on whether to remain an EU member. A deal struck last week between President of the European Council Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister David Cameron intended to keep Britain in the EU did not convince Brexit supporters. An opinion poll published Friday suggested 45 percent of Britons favor leaving the EU compared with 36 percent wanting to remain. Enditem