PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron met Italy’s new premier Giuseppe Conte Friday to try to patch up relations after sparks flew between the two countries over Rome’s rejection of a migrant rescue ship.
Conte arrived at the Elysee Palace in Paris for afternoon talks ahead of a press conference, with both smiling as Macron greeted the Italian leader.
Despite efforts by both sides to play down testy exchanges in recent days, the clash underscores deep divisions in Europe over how to handle the massive influx of migrants from across the Mediterranean in recent years.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday called for the European Union to set up centers to process migrant asylum claims in their home countries, a proposal backed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
“We should create European centers in the countries of departure,” Conte said at a joint press conference with Macron in Paris, referring to African nations that have seen an exodus toward Europe in recent years.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is embroiled in a showdown with the right wing of her governing coalition, which is demanding that she immediately ditch her liberal migration policy and tighten border controls.
An opinion poll by Infratest Dimap suggests 62 percent of Germans back the tougher stance favored by her interior minister, including turning back undocumented migrants at the border and deporting rejects faster.
Merkel has pleaded for more time to negotiate with her European partners on a common response ahead of an EU summit on June 28-29.
But there are few signs that European leaders are anywhere near being ready to coordinate their policies despite a looming end-of-June deadline to change the EU’s current asylum rules.
The Aquarius rescue vessel at the center of this week’s row was continuing on Friday to make its way across the Mediterranean to Spain, which agreed to take the 629 migrants aboard after Italy and Malta refused the ship permission to dock.
Italy’s hard-line new interior minister Matteo Salvini said he hoped the boat would get “a rousing welcome” in Spain, adding that his country was set to present ideas for migration reform to European partners.
“I have already shared a fundamental idea with the Germans and the Austrians — that of defending external borders with men and money, including the Mediterranean,” he said.
The spat between France and Italy erupted this week after Macron accused Rome of “cynicism and irresponsibility” for refusing to let the Aquarius dock.
Italy’s new government hit back, accusing Paris of giving “hypocritical lessons” and threatening to pull out of the meeting with Macron.