The worsening immigration crisis in Europe could tear the “soul” out of the European Union, Italy’s foreign minister has warned.
At least 2,000 more migrants have entered Serbia since Sunday from Macedonia, which has declared a state of emergency due to the large number of migrants arriving from Greece.
The EU border agency, Frontex, has said that last month a record 107,000 migrants were waiting on the borders of the European Union, trying to enter.
Italian foreign minister Paolo Gentiloni said: “On immigration, Europe is in danger of displaying the worst of itself: selfishness, haphazard decision-making and rows between member states.
“I am very worried. Today it is on this issue that Europe will either rediscover its soul or lose it for good.”
German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has said that because his country faces a four-fold increase in requests for asylum this year – as many as 800,000 – the immigration crisis has become Germany’s “biggest challenge since reunification” in 1990. French president Francois Hollande was meeting his German counterpart, chancellor Angela Merkel, in Berlin yesterday to discuss a possible solution to what has been described by the UN’s refugee agency as the biggest migration crisis since the Second World War.
Mr Gentiloni said the chaos witnessed at the Greek border last weekend, as migrants broke through police barriers to head into Macedonia, represented a real threat to the Schengen accords which allow free movement of people and goods across much of the European Union.
“What is at risk is one of the fundamental pillars of the European Union: the free circulation of people,” he said. “From the Sicilian coast to Kos, from Macedonia to Hungary and at Calais, tensions are mounting and, over time, they could put Schengen in question. Can we imagine a Union without Schengen? A return to the old borders?
“Migrants are not arriving in Greece, Italy or Hungary. They’re arriving in Europe. That is why the reception rules have to be ‘Europeanised’.”
In Rome, Italian officials and the International Organisation for Migration said that around 4,400 migrants had been rescued from 22 boats in the Mediterranean on Saturday into Sunday alone, the highest daily figure this year.
Ahead of the Berlin meeting, a French presidential source said that “the (immigration) situation is not resolving itself”, adding that the decisions made by the EU “are not sufficient, not quick enough and not up to the task”.
For the EU, part of the problem is that the flood of migrants does not just include those from war-zones such as Syria or Libya, or from repressive regimes such as Eritrea, but also includes those from countries such as Albania, Serbia and Kosovo, which are not struck by wars, but are on track for eventual EU accession.
France and Germany both want Brussels to come up with a list of countries whose nationals will not be considered asylum-seekers except in “exceptional personal circumstances”.
Ms Merkel will travel to Austria on Thursday, where she will meet leaders of Balkan states including Kosovo and Albania to try to better understand the flow of migrants from these countries.
Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande want to help speed up the establishment of asylum-seeker and refugee reception centres in Greece and Italy, the two EU countries that are bearing the brunt of the immigration crisis.