EU asylum policy: Chances for consensus seem slim

A common EU asylum policy before next week’s summit? Some say that would require a miracle. German Chancellor Merkel could seek bilateral solutions, but that is no easy task either. Bernd Riegert reports from Brussels.

    

Migrants look at train timetables (Getty Images/AFP/M. Medina)Migrants study train timetables in the northern Italian city of Ventimiglia

EU member states have been negotiating a comprehensive reform of the European asylum system as well as ways to secure the bloc’s external borders for the last three years. The European Commission has introduced a legislative packet of seven reforms in an attempt to make headway on the topic. The Commission’s proposals are aimed at speeding the asylum process, standardizing criteria for granting applicants asylum and making it easier for states to deport migrants back to their countries of origin. Many of the proposals enjoy broad support, yet others remain contentious.

No agreement in sight on Dublin IV 

The thorniest sticking point is reform of the so-called Dublin III Regulation. It determines which member states are responsible for which asylum-seekers. The European Commission has proposed providing relief to potentially overburdened countries of first entry — mainly Italy and Greece — through redistribution. Yet many Central and Eastern European countries are strictly opposed to that concept.

Watch video02:34

Building a life in Germany despite threat of deportation

European diplomats in Brussels are convinced that if German Chancellor Angela Merkel thinks the argument can be defused before the upcoming EU summit on June 28-29, she is kidding herself. Observers are asking what interest the Polish or Hungarian government could possibly have in helping the chancellor out of her current crisis with truculent coalition partner and Bavarian sister party, the CSU? Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has long maintained that the problems posed by refugees and asylum-seekers are Germany’s, because Chancellor Merkel is the one who “invited” them to the EU.

Bilateral agreements as a way out?

Merkel with Italy's Giuseppe Conte (Reuters/H. Hanschke)Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte with Merkel: a deal with the new populist government in Rome is highly unlikely

The only thing the chancellor might be able to do is seek bilateral, rather than European, solutions. Article 36 of the Dublin III Regulation allows agreements between EU member states in order to speed the asylum process and find practical solutions to border problems within the EU. Italy and France, for instance, have had such an agreement for six years. It allows French authorities to send immigrants back to Italy — if that happens to be the immigrant’s first country of entry — with only a cursory appraisal of a person’s status. The chancellor could choose to use such agreements as a template for her own bilateral negotiations. That approach, however, would be beset with troubles.

Italy

Italy’s new populist and far-right governing coalition has already begun to crack down on immigrationby turning away life boats operated by refugee aid groups at its maritime borders. After a recent meeting with Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said, “The Dublin system must be overhauled.” That means countries of first entry — like Italy — no longer want to be left alone with the problem. Far-right Interior Minster Matteo Salvini has already called for refugees and asylum-seekers to be resettled in other EU countries.

So what could Angela Merkel offer the Italians to entice them to take back refugees stopped at the German border? An appeal for solidarity with the EU’s most popular target country — Germany — would bear little fruit. The Italian government will not have forgotten the fact that Angela Merkel refused to support a widely discussed EU quota system to provide relief to Italy and Greece back in 2015.

Police check traffic at Schwarzbach on the Austrian-German border (picture-alliance/dpa/S. Hoppe)Police check traffic at Schwarzbach on the Austrian-German border

Austria

Asylum-seekers who enter the EU via Italy and attempt to enter Germany will be stuck in Austria — which lies between the two — if the new, right-wing populist government in Vienna does not form a bilateral agreement. At this point, Austria has shown no inclination to do so. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has long been a vehement critic of Angela Merkel’s asylum policies. He recently proposed creating an “axis of the willing” to seal the EU’s exterior borders, keeping migrants from even reaching the continent in the first place. Kurz has also said that asylum procedures would be best conducted outside the EU — in North Africa, or on an isolated island. That idea is supported by Italy. Such asylum centers are also said to be part of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer’s “Migration Master Plan.” It will be a difficult task to sculpt all of that into concrete form before the coming summit.

Read more: Bavaria’s Markus Söder and Austria’s Sebastian Kurz unite on migration

Graph showing expenditure for asylum-seekers in EU countries

Greece

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras effusively praised Chancellor Merkel for her asylum policies a few days ago. He said he was impressed by the fact that she was trying to solve the problem on a European level. The EU’s agreement with Turkey, which has provided great relief to Greece, owes much to the chancellor’s personal engagement. One can suppose Greek enthusiasm for taking back rejected asylum-seekers trying to reach Germany via the Balkan route is minimal. And unless those rejected asylum-seekers are put on a plane and sent straight back to Greece, it is unlikely that they will ever return anyhow. Such people would have to traverse a number of other states before arriving back in Greece.

Western Balkans

Chancellor Merkel could also negotiate deals with non-EU member states, allowing asylum-seekers and immigrants in transit to be returned when denied entry to Germany. From Germany’s perspective, returns to a number of states have already worked quite well. Numbers of asylum-seekers from Serbia, Kosovo and Albania, for instance, have fallen dramatically of late. Still, it remains to be seen whether these Balkan countries will be willing to take in people from other states. Theoretically, a type of “domino” return system could be possible, extending from Germany, to Austria, to the Balkans and all the way back to Greece.

Watch video02:24

Merkel, Macron call for unified response to migration

European solutions a far-off dream

The European Commission’s head of immigration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, is convinced that a reform of the Dublin system is imperative to finding a European solution. Yet, as long as member states continue to block that, many other aspects of asylum reform will remain out of reach.

Most EU states agree in principle to the expansion of the Eurodac data system to include asylum-seekers. Another novelty is set to be the issuance of a complete EU list of countries of safe origin. Chancellor Merkel even envisions an EU asylum authority that would, in time, make its decisions in a transit zone at the EU’s external borders.

 

COURTESY: DW

Angela Merkel promises to support Italy on migration after Giuseppe Conte meeting in Berlin

The German chancellor says she wants to work with Italy to reduce the number of refugees entering the European Union. Merkel is facing a rebellion inside her governing conservative alliance over migration.

    
Conte shake hands after giving a statement to the press before their meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany (Imago/ZUMA Press/E. Contini)

Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to support Italy in tackling mass migration from outside the European Union during a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Monday.

“We want to support Italy’s desire for solidarity, and also hope that Germany receives understanding when it comes to European solidarity on the question of migration,” she said in Berlin.

Read more: Angela Merkel buys time in government crisis over asylum

Merkel and Conte agreed on the need to beef up Frontex, the EU’s external border police, and to work with international organizations to tackle the causes of migration in Africa and the Middle East, Merkel said.

They also agreed that EU asylum applications should be processed in origin or transit countries before would-be migrants enter the bloc, she added.

Read more: Angela Merkel seeks EU talks on migration amid coalition row: report

‘Italian borders are European borders’

Millions of refugees have traversed the Mediterranean Sea in the last few years to apply for asylum in the EU. The influx has led to an anti-migrant backlash in Italy, where many arrivals first landed, and in Germany, the preferred end destination for many refugees.

Watch video02:33

Germany’s chancellor survives rebellion in her government

Conte, who was visiting Germany for the first time since assuming office on June 1, said Italy wanted changes to EU immigration rules to ensure other EU countries share the burden of handling refugees. Current rules stipulate that refugees need to register their asylum application in the first EU country they arrive in.

“The Italian borders are European borders,” he said.

Read more: Germany’s political crisis over asylum: What happens now?

Merkel-Seehofer dispute

The meeting in Berlin followed a week of political upheaval in Germany and the rest of Europe in response to mass migration into the EU.

Merkel’s own position as chancellor appeared to be threatened after her hardline interior minister and conservative ally, Horst Seehofer, called for Germany to start refusing some refugees at the German border. Merkel opposed the move, arguing that Germany should work with other EU countries to find a common solution to the problem.

Read more: CSU leader Horst Seehofer: The man who could bring down Angela Merkel?

Seehofer and his Christian Social Union (CSU) party has clashed with Merkel, who leads the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on refugee policy. Merkel must now attempt to build a solution with EU partners by the beginning of July.

Merkel is reportedly aiming to negotiate individual deals with Germany’s neighbors to allow Berlin to refuse refugees who have already been registered in another EU country. France and Italy have already agreed to a similar arrangement.

Read more: Italian PM Giuseppe Conte says row with Emmanuel Macron over, calls for EU immigration reform

Watch video42:34

Aquarius: Rescue in deadly waters

Italy-France dispute

Conte’s own anti-establishment government had a separate dispute with French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the week after Italy’s anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, refused to allow a ship carrying more than 600 migrants and operated by a charity organization to dock at an Italian port.

Conte lashed out at the French president after Macron’s spokesman said Italy had acted with “cynicism and a measure of irresponsibility” in refusing to allow the ship, which has since arrived in Spain, to dock.

amp/kl (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)

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COURTESY: DW

Opinion: Time to scrap the G7

The messy quarrel over the G7 communique serves nobody. So why not scrap these summits altogether? After all, the four-decade-old event is an anachronistic format anyway, says Felix Steiner.

    
2018 G7 summit in Canada (Reuters/L. Millis)

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron should take matters into their own hands and scrap G7 summits. And who could object to that? These annual gatherings, bringing together leaders of the world’s biggest economies, are a Franco-German invention. Germany’s former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing established the summit in the 1970s – so why would their elected successors not be entitled to disband the club?

Posing for the press

Doing away with the huge summit would not be a great loss for humanity. After all, what was originally conceived in 1975 as a gathering for casual and confidential talks on economic matters has transformed into an annual mega event. Today, summits are held in out of the way locations for fear of protesters, while the 1,000 journalists in attendance interpret leaders’ every gesture and facial expression live on the air.

Well aware of this media coverage, leaders pose for the press, doing what they can to impress voters at home. This year’s summit made it abundantly clear just how differently national audiences view what goes on at the summit.

Vaguely worded outcomes

Then there is the tradition of protracted negations over the exact phrasing of the final communique, leading to excessively vague wording–of a document that has no relevance for world affairs, whether or not all the leaders sign it. With the little allotted time, is it even possible to meaningfully debate and agree on how to tackle plastic waste contaminating the oceans, or how to promote women entrepreneurs in the developing world? Two important issues, without doubt. But is the G7 summit the right venue to address them? Maybe the United Nations would be more appropriate?

In 2007, leaders gathered at Heiligendamm to discuss climate change, even though for years the UN has held an annual climate change conference. With all the talk about the climate, everyone was taken by surprise when just eight weeks later the global financial crisis struck – economists would call that ignoring the bottom line.

Despite the label, the summit today does not actually bring together the world’s greatest economies. Instead of Italy and Canada, India and China should be attending the summits. That is why, following the onset of the financial crisis, the G20 was established to allow for economic consultations that include the world’s rapidly growing newly industrialized nations. That would have been the right moment for the G7 to disband. But rather than facing reality, members just kept believing in their own importance. And so, the group was simply redefined as a community bound by shared values. Which is just as ludicrous as calling NATO a community bound by shared values, given that the alliance never objected to Greek and Turkish dictators.

Multilateralism not in the cards anytime soon

Watch video00:21

Merkel: Trump’s G7 tweets ‘sobering and depressing’

NATO, just like the G7, is nothing more than a community bound by some – but not all – values. And the US, which is the most powerful member in both clubs, has now opted to alter its trade interests – with backing from American voters. Surveys show US President Donald Trump’s supporters appreciate his uncompromising stance. Meaning that a return to multilateralism is not in the cards any time soon, no matter how hopeful Europeans may be.

With agreements on economic matters now out of the question, the G7 has lost its main reason for existing. All other topics were little more than embellishments, after all. This does not mean trans-Atlantic ties have been severed. A multitude of other summits still exists. But Chancellor Merkel is certainly right that now more than ever, the EU must speak with one voice. It is an appeal Merkel herself will need to heed, as she knows just how much tensions her government’s course is creating within the bloc.

COURTESY: DW

Donald Trump’s Call for Russia to Rejoin G-7 Jolts Start of Summit

Tensions among members, already high after public trade disputes, loom large in geopolitical talks

Clockwise from background center, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits with President of France Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.S. President Donald Trump as they take part in the Group of Seven industrialized nations summit in Canada, on June 8, 2018.
Clockwise from background center, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits with President of France Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.S. President Donald Trump as they take part in the Group of Seven industrialized nations summit in Canada, on June 8, 2018. PHOTO: SEAN KILPATRICK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Donald Trump’s suggestion to have Russia rejoin the Group of Seven industrialized nations and his recent imposition of metals tariffs on U.S. allies rattled the start of the G-7 summit, exposing fissures among the group’s members.

The summit is emerging as a test of whether the exclusive group of major industrialized economies can overcome growing tensions to focus on more common-ground issues such as bringing stability to the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East—including the complex question of the Iran nuclear accord.

An afternoon session on the economy and trade was predictable and inconclusive, and saw Mr. Trump pitted against the six other countries, according to a person familiar with the deliberations. There was strong disagreement among the leaders but no significant clash, the person said.

Mr. Trump’s surprising comment ahead of the summit for Russia to be allowed back into the G-7, four years after it was expelled over its annexation of Crimea, added to the uncertainty.

“Why are we having a meeting without Russia?” the president asked as he left the White House for the summit Friday. “We have a world to run…We should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

The comment added another wrinkle to a two-day gathering already rife with tension over U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum produced by its closest Western allies—and triggered sharply different responses from other G-7 members.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters Friday inviting Russia back is a nonstarter: “There are no grounds whatsoever for bringing Russia with its current behavior back into the G-7.” ​

Hot Button IssueTrade plays an increasingly important role in the global economy. And concerns about recent U.S. tariffs willlikely take center stage at the G-7 meeting.Trade as a share of GDP for G-7 countriesSource: World Bank
%U.S.CanadaJapanFranceGermanyU.K.ItalyWorld1970’75’80’85’90’952000’05’10’150255075100

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said in an interview with Sky News the G-7 needed to be wary of Russian re-entry.

“Before discussions could begin on any of this, we would have to ensure Russia is amending its ways and taking a different route,” said Mrs. May.

Yet Italy’s new prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, backed Mr. Trump’s suggestion on Friday. “I agree with President Trump: Russia should re-enter the G-8. It’s in everyone’s interests,” he said on Twitter.

Moscow appeared indifferent in its initial response to Mr. Trump’s comment.

“We are concentrating on other formats” apart from the G-7, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian state news agencies’ reports.

European Council President Donald Tusk said Friday that it was evident that Mr. Trump and the leaders of other G-7 countries continue to disagree on trade, climate change and the Iran nuclear deal.

“The rules-based international order is being challenged, quite surprisingly, not by the usual suspects, but by its main architect and guarantor, the U.S.,” he said during a briefing in the Quebec resort town of La Malbaie, where the G-7 summit is being held.

A Japanese official said Japan is in sync with the Europeans on trade and is trying to persuade the U.S. to rethink its tariffs, which the Trump administration imposed on national-security grounds.

G-7 leaders posed for the customary family photo during the summit Friday.
G-7 leaders posed for the customary family photo during the summit Friday. PHOTO: /AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Mr. Tusk said a priority is persuading the U.S. to strengthen the current format of the G-7 as a guarantor of the world order.

John Kirton, head of the University of Toronto’s G-7 research group, said it is for the best that Mr. Trump is at the table talking to America’s longstanding allies.

“It’s much better to talk to him face to face and ask him, ‘What’s on your mind? What do you want? Isn’t there a deal to be done?’” he said.

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Tensions escalated between Mr. Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France, who until now has been Mr. Trump’s closest ally in the European Union, on Thursday.

Mr. Macron said at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa on Thursday that the U.S.’s steel and aluminum tariffs against the European Union and Canada are pushing the six remaining nations of the G-7 to become a force of their own.

“Maybe Mr. Trump doesn’t mind that he’s being isolated,” Mr. Macron said, “but these six countries have shared values that represent an economic market of true international strength.”

Uneven RecoveryWhile most advanced economies have rebounded from the global economic crisis, some still lag.Change since 2007 in inflation-adjusted GDP among G-7 countriesSource: International Monetary FundNote: Germany’s 2016 data and all 2017 and 2018 data are estimates.
%U.S.CanadaJapanFranceGermanyU.K.Italy2007’08’09’10’11’12’13’14’15’16’17’18-10-505101520

Mr. Trump fired back with a message on Twitter that said, “Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create nonmonetary barriers. The EU trade surplus with the U.S. is $151 Billion, and Canada keeps our farmers and others out. Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.”

Eswar Prasad, senior professor of trade policy and economics at Cornell University, said Mr. Trump’s actions and words leading up to and at the G-7 meetings “punctuate his dismissive view of multilateralism.”

“It is remarkable to see the U.S. so isolated amidst a gathering of longstanding allies that have traditionally shared similar economic and political systems and a common set of values,” he said.

Statements from some leaders ahead of the G-7 gathering warned that blunt talk with Mr. Trump would be likely and that the seven countries might fail to agree to a summit-ending communiqué, which would buck tradition.

“We will see where we land,” Ms. Freeland said about plans to issue an agreed-upon communiqué.

A European official said officials are exploring a final statement that would list the countries’ different views, but a failure to agree on a common document is still possible.

Mr. Trump leaves Saturday around mid-morning, before the G-7 tackle issues surrounding climate change, and the protection of coastal communities. The other G-7 leaders will hold press conferences late Saturday afternoon.

This week, Germany showed signs of trying to dial down tensions. Germany is one of the world’s largest exporters, and its economy is highly dependent on trade.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to increase Germany’s defense budget in a partial concession to the U.S., which has long objected to Germany’s relatively low military spending.

Mr. Trump had raised the pressure on Berlin in recent weeks by linking the issue to his attempt to rewrite the terms of the U.S.-Europe trade relationship.

Write to Kim Mackrael at kim.mackrael@wsj.com, Paul Vieira at paul.vieira@wsj.com and Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ

DW investigates why few visas are issued for Africans wanting to come to Germany

It’s not easy for Africans to obtain a visa to visit Germany. A DW data analysis reveals that one in five applications is rejected, far more than for other parts of the world.

    
A Visa for the Schengen state in Europe (Fotolia/katatonia)

Grace Boateng (not her real name) hadn’t imagined it would be so difficult. Three years ago, the 26-year-old Ghanaian submitted her first application for a visa to come to Germany. “At the end they said: Sorry, we can’t give you a visa. We’re not sure if you will return to Ghana afterwards,” she said in interview with DW. Grace insists she had fulfilled all the requirements. “I said: ‘I showed you my bank statements, I have an apartment in Accra, I have family here. What more do you want?'”

But her appeal against the decision was rejected, as were two further applications. She says she finally obtained a visa after applying for a fourth time. Grace believes her country of origin was the reason for the rejections. “Why is it easier for people from other countries to come here and then it is so difficult for Africans to come here? What is the difference between someone from China, from Australia? We are the same human beings, we pay the same fees, we come with the same requirements that you ask,” she said.

Data visualization EN visa applications to Germany over time

Grace Boateng is not alone in thinking this. But is there any truth behind this assumption? DW journalists have analyzed data concerning the issuing of visas by German embassies between 2014 and 2017. Their main focus was on applications made for long-term visas for the purpose of study, work or family reunions. “Schengen visas” for short visits were not part of the study.

Easier for Asians

The number of visa applications which were processed and decided upon by all German embassies and consulates between 2014 and 2017 rose by 58 percent, while the number of rejections increased by 131 percent. During this period, only around 10 percent of decided applications came from Africa. Many more came from Asia (60 percent) and non-EU countries in Europe (23 percent). Africa tops the list of rejections —  22 percent of all processed applications were turned down. That’s at least one in five. From Europe, only one in eight applications got the red light and from Asia only one in ten. In other words, applications from Africa are turned down twice as often as those from Asia.

Data visualization EN visa applications Germany rejection rates continents

It is difficult to pinpoint concrete reasons for this. The German Federal Foreign Office was not willing to grant DW an interview to discuss the findings. However, it did provide a statement saying that decisions on visa applications are made by the respective embassies based on objective criteria. Applicants must provide details about their income in order to prove that they can provide for themselves financially while in Germany, or must prove they know someone here who would be responsible for such costs. Also, the foreign ministry says, there must be a plausible reason for the application. In cases of family reunions, the applicant must prove that he or she is married or related to the person living in Germany. The foreign ministry does not instruct embassies to subject applications from a specific country to a tougher vetting procedure or turn down more from some countries compared to others.

But migration researcher Jochen Oltmer believes that nationality does play a role in the decison-making process. “It’s always also a matter of the political situation in the home country of a visa applicant,” the professor at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück told DW. The question is whether entry into Germany is seen as likely to pose a threat to security, health or the social system. Oltmer thinks these considerations could play a role, particularly in the case of visa applicants from Africa. “Is it a question of a rich democracy or a poor dictatorship? If one looks at the general view of Africa here, it is widely seen as a continent marked by poverty, extreme inequality and high migration potential.”

Data visualization EN visa applications Germany rejection rates African countries

Empty promises?

This could also explain why there are big differences between individual countries concerning the number of visa rejections. In Nigeria, for example, 5,268 applications were decided between 2014 and 2017, in South Africa the figure was 4,089, of which just six percent were rejected, while in Nigeria 24 percent were turned down. “Nigeria is a very populous country which in recent years has been linked with the following factors: a high migration potential, extremely violent conflicts, Boko Haram terror and serious human rights violations,” Oltmer said.

The figures reveal a large contradiction between official German policy and reality. Beginning last year, Germany promised to make it easier for young Africans to enter this country. “We want to make it possible for more young people from Ghana to study or learn a trade in Germany. I think we must fight illegal migration but, on the other hand, we must also open up legal opportunities, especially for young people,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a visit by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo in February.

Data visualization EN visa applications Germany distribution rejection rates continents

The young Ghanaian Grace Boateng has come to her own conclusion about German visa policy. “I have the personal experience where I went to the embassy for my appointment. After my appointment I got a letter which said ‘No, you cannot go.’ On my way out, I met somebody who said, ‘Oh no, this was my seventh time that this is happening.’ Then why are you asking people to apply and pay money? Some people come from very far away and then you reject this person so many times. That’s absurd.”

COURTESY: DW

Merkel Responds to Macron’s Plan to Overhaul EU With One of Her Own

German chancellor’s suggestions, including combining defense capabilities and building a common eurozone investment fund, draw praise from France

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen on May 31, on Sunday proposed beefing up an existing backstop for cash-strapped members of the eurozone and creating a joint budget for the currency union.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen on May 31, on Sunday proposed beefing up an existing backstop for cash-strapped members of the eurozone and creating a joint budget for the currency union. PHOTO: PEDRO FIUZA/NURPHOTO/ZUMA PRESS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined proposals for overhauling and strengthening the architecture of the European Union in an interview published on Sunday, including combining nations’ defense capabilities and building a common investment fund for the eurozone.

While the suggestions broadly matched known German positions about the bloc’s future, they marked Ms. Merkel’s most direct and detailed reaction to proposals for overhauling the EU that French President Emmanuel Macron laid out in September.

The proposals, including beefing up an existing backstop for cash-strapped members of the eurozone and creating a joint budget for the currency union, came after capital markets briefly sank after the formation of a populist Italian government last week, evoking memories of the 2010 eurozone crisis.

They also come against a backdrop of mounting trans-Atlantic tension after President Donald Trump slapped the EU with steep tariffs on steel and aluminum. Some analysts have predicted his aggressive stance could prompt EU members to bury their differences on a number of divisive issues.

“America is and remains the superpower, but at the moment it doesn’t recognize multilateral agreements in all areas, as shown by the decision to leave the [Paris] climate accord and now the tariffs that President Trump has levied against Europe,” Ms. Merkel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung weekly.

Institutional changes to the EU would ensure that “its voice is taken seriously in the world,” she said.

French officials welcomed Ms. Merkel’s proposals, even if her ideas for the eurozone fell short of Mr. Macron’s ambitions. The 40-year-old French leader has called for a deeper overhaul that would see eurozone countries share more resources and liabilities in a budget as large as several percentage points of eurozone economic output. That would potentially place the largest burdens on Germany and France, respectively the two largest eurozone economies.

Without steps toward such burden sharing, he said, the next economic shock could pull apart the 19-nation currency bloc.

“France and Germany still need to work on these subjects in the coming weeks for a more ambitious accord on banking union and the fiscal capacity for the eurozone,” an official at Mr. Macron’s office said Sunday.

An official at the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, welcomed the chancellor’s comments, saying the interview showed “that Merkel is determined to shape Europe in an ambitious and responsible manner in the coming months.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, seen on May 30, articulated his vision for the EU’s future in a September speech at Paris’s La Sorbonne university.
French President Emmanuel Macron, seen on May 30, articulated his vision for the EU’s future in a September speech at Paris’s La Sorbonne university. PHOTO: CHRISTOPHE MORIN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

The comments suggest a new willingness by Ms. Merkel to engage with Mr. Macron’s proposals, despite signs this year that the chancellor would cede to domestic pressure to keep any eurozone overhauls to a minimum.

Ms. Merkel is under pressure from the conservative wing of her own center-right party and the euroskeptic Alternative for Germany, which swept into Parliament in September, to shun fiscal handouts to southern Europe.

Germany isn’t alone: Eight northern European finance ministers, led by the Netherlands, warned in a letter in March against any far-reaching eurozone overhauls.

Sunday’s interview marked more significant rapprochement with Mr. Macron on topics including migration and public investment in innovation and technology. “It’s a positive move that shows the European commitment of the chancellor and her government,” the official said.

The chancellor also backed Mr. Macron’s plans for a common European defense force, which have previously won little support in Berlin. Deeper military cooperation could help reduce complexity and overlapping systems, and could be extended to the U.K. after it leaves the bloc next March, Ms. Merkel said.

As they try to set a road map for eurozone overhauls by the end of the month, Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel plan to meet at the meeting of the Group of Seven leading nations in Canada on Friday and Saturday.

“The chancellor is revitalizing the European overhaul process that has been started to strengthen Europe’s ability to act in an uncertain and unstable world,” one EU official said.

Ms. Merkel’s comments followed a week of tumultuous politics in Italy, the eurozone’s No. 3 economy, and precede an EU summit this month where leaders hope to agree on plans to strengthen the currency union.

German officials have increasingly voiced their frustration with the U.S. government’s decisions to abandon key international accords, including the Iran nuclear deal, and impose restrictions on international trade that threaten Germany’s large export sector.

Ms. Merkel’s proposals included a common investment fund for the eurozone, with an annual budget in the low-two-digit-billion-euro range, that could help boost the bloc’s technological capabilities. That falls well short of Mr. Macron’s proposal that envisaged an instrument with budgetary firepower of around €200 billion ($233.2 billion).

Ms. Merkel also called for the eurozone’s €500 billion rescue fund, the centerpiece of its crisis-fighting strategy, to be converted into a European version of the International Monetary Fund that could offer long-term loans under conditions to stressed governments as well as short-term credit lines.

The fund should be equipped with tools to monitor government budget policies and address concerns about fiscal sustainability, she said. The idea partly stems from a desire to reduce Europe’s dependency on the IMF, but it is also driven by German concern that the European Commission is becoming more politicized and that enforcement of fiscal rules should be trusted to a new, independent body.

Mr. Macron articulated his vision for the EU’s future in a September speech at Paris’s La Sorbonne university. Ms. Merkel hadn’t publicly respond directly to Mr. Macron’s ideas, in part because Germany was plunged into months of political uncertainty following September’s inconclusive general election.

Ms. Merkel also warned in the interview that the EU’s border-security and asylum policy should be strengthened because they had become an “existential question” for the bloc. She suggested the turbulence in Italian politics resulted in part from weaknesses in the EU’s current asylum processes, and called for a common system for processing asylum seekers and a more powerful border police force.

“Part of the insecurity in Italy is because Italians felt they were left alone after Libya’s collapse to deal with the task of taking in the many refugees and migrants from Africa,” she said.

Write to Tom Fairless at tom.fairless@wsj.com and William Horobin at William.Horobin@wsj.com

Global Trade Tensions Intensify

Allies’ public rebuke of the U.S., retaliatory moves test Trump ahead of G-7 meeting

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Sunday arrived at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing to meet with Liu He, China’s economic czar, for trade negotiations as the two countries edged closer to imposing tariffs on one another.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Sunday arrived at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing to meet with Liu He, China’s economic czar, for trade negotiations as the two countries edged closer to imposing tariffs on one another. PHOTO: ANDY WONG/PRESS POOL

The Trump administration showed no sign of backing down from restrictive tariffs in the face of pushback from allies and China over the weekend, isolating the U.S. and complicating the president’s meeting later this week with leaders of Washington’s staunchest partners.

Top finance officials from the Group of Seven leading nations met in Canada, where the non-U.S. members issued a public rebuke of Washington’s new steel and aluminum tariffs. Those six—the host Canada, along with France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K.—adopted a formal statement Saturday expressing their “unanimous concern and disappointment.”

The following day in China, Beijing said it wouldn’t abide by any agreement to buy more U.S. products without assurances that the U.S. wouldn’t go ahead with plans to hit it with tariffs on $50 billion on Chinese imports.

But even with retaliatory moves under way in China as well as in Europe and North America, there was no sign over the weekend that the administration was wary of inching closer to a trade war.

“When you’re almost 800 Billion Dollars a year down on Trade, you can’t lose a Trade War!” President Donald Trump said in a Twitter message Saturday. “The U.S. has been ripped off by other countries for years on Trade, time to get smart!”

The disputes come just as the Trump administration has its arms full of difficult negotiating tasks. Most immediately, Mr. Trump himself now must face leaders of countries who have termed his policies extreme, unwise and in some cases illegal when he arrives in Quebec for a summit of G-7 heads of state scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

That will be followed by a planned summit with North Korea in Singapore just three days later, on June 12. Mr. Trump also is facing European opposition to his push to rewrite the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and is planning for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Still, the push to impose tariffs is causing the most immediate friction. The White House has said the tariffs imposed last week—25% on steel and 10% on aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union—were designed to address the role steel imports have played in undermining the viability of the U.S. steel industry, without which the country would have difficulty mobilizing for its defense.

The administration has signaled its intent to use a similar security argument to affix tariffs on cars from Germany and Japan, and industrial supplies from China.

In response to the tariffs, the administration absorbed one punch after another. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the U.S. move “frankly insulting and unacceptable” in a televised interview Sunday, while his foreign-affairs minister compared it to pre-Depression U.S. policies.

Global Trade Tensions Intensify

“We know that beggar-thy-neighbor policies don’t work. That was the lesson of the 1920s and the 1930s,” said the minister, Chrystia Freeland, on CNN. “And I really hope people will take some time to reflect on the lessons of history, and not go down that path again.”

Mário Centeno, the Portuguese finance minister who participates at the G-7 by virtue of being president of the Eurogroup, the association of eurozone finance ministers, described the U.S. position within the G-7 in stark terms.

“We can say the U.S. went into the tariff issue alone and they remain alone around the table,” said Mr. Centeno in an interview.

With U.S. lawmakers set to return from a Memorial Day break, many top Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, are warning the administration to change course. In March, more than 100 congressional Republicans urged Mr. Trump in a letter to avoid tariffs.

The decision to impose tariffs contributed to volatility in global financial markets and led to predictions of potentially adverse economic impacts.

Economists warned that retaliation leading to increased trade barriers on the order of those that existed in the early 1990s could cost thousands of American jobs and even point the U.S. toward recession. Business groups said the number of jobs lost, in the worst case scenario, could climb into the millions.

As the weekend’s dust was settling, Mr. Trump’s top economic adviser, Lawrence Kudlow, played down the eruption. He said tariffs are necessary to close loopholes and “correct several decades of abuse” in global trade, telling Fox News that Mr. Trudeau, in particular, was overreacting to a “family feud.”

“The president has a quiver of tools, and tariffs are part of that quiver,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

The G-7 gathering was held for finance chiefs in advance of the summit of those countries’ top leaders. The G-7, a club of industrialized nations formed around common interests, rarely issues such strong condemnation aimed at one of its members.

More unlikely is the fact that the target of the criticism is the U.S., which has done more than any other country to establish the free-trade principles upon which the global economy functions today.

“I do not ever recall an instance where the U.S. was singled out for rebuke,” said Daniel Price, managing director of Rock Creek Global Advisors, who represented the George W. Bush administration for G-7, G-20 and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summits. “Traditionally, the U.S. has been a driver of G-7 unity, and typically leads efforts to reach consensus. On trade, the U.S. has quite dramatically become a source of discord and division.”

As the source of the consternation, Mr. Trump now must face G-7 leaders in five days’ time. As he does, other countries are adopting a wary stance even if they have so far been spared by Mr. Trump.

“Trump is trying to get rid of bilateral trade deficits,” said former U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills, a Republican critic of the Trump administration’s trade strategy. “He’s lining up [trade disputes] one by one.”

Ms. Hills said she thinks the administration has taken the wrong strategy on China by fighting first with allies over steel and aluminum, especially given that U.S. complaints about China mirrored those of Washington’s friends.

“It would have been more effective if we joined with six of our closest allies and acted together,” she said. “Instead, we went after our allies and acted unilaterally” on China.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who attended the G-7 finance officials’ meeting, denied the U.S. was left outside the consensus on all matters and insisted Washington is playing a central role. “I don’t think in any way the U.S. is abandoning its leadership in the global economy,” Mr. Mnuchin said.

“These are our most important allies,” Mr. Mnuchin said. “We’ve had longstanding relationships with all these countries that are very important across all different aspects.”

Write to Josh Zumbrun at Josh.Zumbrun@wsj.com and Bob Davis at bob.davis@wsj.com

COURTESY: WSJ