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Immigration at top of European Council meeting’s agenda

European leaders are trying to iron out differences on the refugee issue in the days before the European Council meeting to be held on Thursday in Brussels, Le Monde reports, whereas Le Figaro stresses that the European Council is trying to dodge the migration issue, a sign of EU leaders’ weariness and an indication that Viktor Orbán is not far from winning his arm-wrestle with Chancellor Angela Merkel on the issue of whether to welcome refugees or erect fences.

According to Le Figaro, the European Council is likely to only review the implementation of the directions already taken. The member states’ intransigence keeps increasing in the face of a migration influx which they fear may grow even bigger with the new Russian offensive on Aleppo and the arrival of spring, Le Figaro further reports. On Monday, the Visegrád countries met in Prague in a diplomatic effort to defend their hostile attitude and prove that their position is neither directed against any particular member state, nor against the European Commission, Le Monde reports – with several European and Chinese media going back over the meeting of the Visegrád countries.

And yesterday Austria confirmed the introduction of checkpoints at 12 crossings along its Italian, Hungarian and Slovenian borders, several sources such as Salzburger Nachrichten, El Pais, La Repubblica and Le Figaro report. Speaking to Der Kurier about Austria’s current situation in the refugee crisis, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann stresses that Austria agrees with Germany when it comes to the fair distribution of refugees, but agrees more with the Visegrád Group when it comes to the matter of protecting borders.

In an interview with La Repubblica, German Foreign Deputy Minister Michael Roth calls on all European partners not to take solitary initiatives, as Austria and other Eastern European countries are doing. He also says that Germany will not support the exclusion of Greece from Schengen. Excluding Greece from the Schengen area will not solve the migrant crisis, European Council President Donald Tusk echoed at a press conference in Athens yesterday, as quoted by Greek media and other European media such as Magyar Hirlap.

However, according to Le Figaro, despite Angela Merkel’s and Donald Tusk’s statements, there seems to be nothing that can prevent the quarantining of Greece, as the Europe of Schengen is tearing itself apart. Angela Merkel, Information writes, is isolated among European leaders. Viktor Orbán has managed to isolate her in the EU; even Austria has turned against her in the refugee policy, notes Handelsblatt. “Merkel in difficulty,” one can read in a headline in La Repubblica, as the German Chancellor, Publico reports, is betting on the agreement with Turkey and strongly opposes the idea of closing borders.

Angela Merkel, Greek media note, categorically rejects the closing of the Greek-FYROM borders. Speaking in Brussels, a Commission spokesperson expressed the EC’s satisfaction with the work to establish hotspots in Greece, Cypriot and Greek media report. Asked to comment on reports that four of the five hotspots are ready, the Commission said that the European Commission has personnel on site that can verify this, adding that the EU has been mobilised at all levels to assist Greece to start operating the hotspots as soon as possible.



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