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Berlin, Paris urge Brussels to rework EU asylum plan

Update: June, 02/2015 - 11:17

BERLIN — Germany and France have urged the EU to find a fairer way to admit and distribute asylum seekers, as their leaders met the European Commission chief in Berlin.

The Greek debt crisis and the threat of Britain leaving the EU were also sure to occupy minds as Chancellor Angela Merkel hosted President Francois Hollande and Jean-Claude Juncker for a working dinner.

Officially the mini-summit brought together the leaders of the eurozone's two biggest economies and the EU executive with around 20 heads of large European companies to discuss economic challenges in the digital age.

The three leaders did not touch on refugees, Greece or Britain in brief press statements at the start of the meeting, which Juncker said would discuss the growth and jobs potential of a future "digital single market" in the 28-nation bloc.

The get-together came hours after a joint call by Paris and Berlin for the EU to revise its plan to admit asylum seekers landing on Europe's shores, amid a spike in arrivals from war zones such as Syria and some poverty-stricken African countries.

Decrying an insufficient "balance", the German and French interior ministers said in a joint statement on Monday that "deep discussions" were needed, along with "exercising responsibility, solidarity and fairer burden-sharing". Last week, the European Commission asked member states to admit 20,000 Syrian refugees from outside Europe and process another 40,000 asylum seekers from Syria and Eritrea landing in Italy and Greece.

Which EU countries would take them in would depend on factors such as national economic output, population and unemployment rates.

France and Germany said in the joint statement that they currently were among five member states, along with Sweden, Italy and Hungary, that "are in charge of 75 per cent of the asylum seekers". "This situation is not fair and no longer sustainable," they said.

Fears about 'Grexit'

European sources have said the meeting of Merkel, Hollande and Juncker also aimed at working on plans for greater integration of the 19-member eurozone in the wake of the debt turmoil still plaguing cash-strapped Greece.

Hollande in brief comments to the press said "the only issue that we need to really address is to pursue medium and long-term growth in a way so that Europe can deal with its problems." The fight against unemployment must be "the aim of all of the decisions we take," he added.

Juncker earlier told a German newspaper that he would be "very surprised" if Greece's woes were not at the heart of the Berlin discussions, reiterating his opposition to a so-called "Grexit." "I don't share this idea that we'd have fewer concerns and constraints if Greece gave up the euro," he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

The Berlin meet follows a phone conference on Sunday between Merkel, Hollande and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose country is locked in protracted talks with its creditors in a bid to unlock 7.2 billion euros (US$7.9 billion) in bailout funds.

Sources close to the Greek government said a "good atmosphere" prevailed during the 35-minute conversation, while Merkel's spokeswoman described the discussions as "constructive." With key deadlines approaching and Athens' coffers nearly empty, a deal has so far proved elusive between Athens and the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank who demand greater reforms in exchange for cash. — AFP

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