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BRUSSELS – Leaders from a group of European Union countries, led by Germany and France, will meet Sunday to thrash out possible solutions to a divisive row over migrants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose own government is in crisis over the management of migrant arrivals, is expected to join the leaders of Austria, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Spain for "informal talks" at European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday.
The U.N. refugee agency estimates that around 40,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year, around half the number who had entered at this time in 2017. But even though arrivals are declining, the unity of the 28-nation bloc is being torn apart by a crisis of confidence. Most migrants land in Italy and Greece and those countries feel they have been abandoned by EU partners. Member states like Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are unwilling to share the burden and refuse to accept refugee quotas.
The Commission said Sunday's meeting, just days before a full EU summit June 28-29, is aimed at "finding European solutions" to the migrant challenge.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country takes over the EU's rotating presidency on July 1, said the gathering "is not about German domestic politics, it's about a solution of the migration question that is long overdue."
Kurz said it will address issues like "how we protect the (EU) external borders, how do we prevent waving (migrants) through to central Europe."
Efforts to reform the EU's asylum laws have run for two years without success, blocked mostly over the issue of which country should take responsibility for migrants and refugees and for how long. Juncker said if those laws had been overhauled earlier "we wouldn't find ourselves confronted with the problem that we face today."
While some EU countries might be angered at being left out of Sunday's talks — Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called Juncker to ask to take part — Juncker said "there is no question that after Sunday we would dictate to other member states the line that should be taken" on managing migration.
More than 1 million migrants entered Europe in 2015, most fleeing war in Syria and Iraq, overwhelming Greece and Italy and exposing glaring weaknesses in asylum laws and reception capacities.
But Turkey has taken in more refugees than the world's biggest trading bloc, while Lebanon and Jordan together house some 2 million people.
"We do not have a crisis of numbers. We continue to have a crisis of political will," UNHCR Europe chief Sophie Magennis said Monday.
Raf Casert in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.