On August 11, German Chancellor Angela Merkel travelled to Southwestern Spain to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. The meeting, which came just a few weeks before the next EU Summit in Austria, displayed the close ties between the two countries and their commitment to solving Europe’s greatest challenges together.
Since taking over the premiership in June, Sánchez has signalled a desire for Spain to take on a more prominent role on the European stage. He’s strengthened ties with the EU’s most influential member states and reasserted Spain’s commitment to EU principles.
Speaking at the joint press conference with Sánchez, Merkel emphasised their shared vision.
“Not only do we have a great bilateral relationship, but the German government and the Spanish government have the same approach to solving Europe’s big questions”.
While the pair discussed potential EU-level economic and defence reforms they agreed upon, the focus of the meeting was undoubtedly the ongoing migration crisis in Europe. Merkel’s visit occurred on the day a new agreement between the two countries came into force. Under this deal, Madrid agreed to accept migrants rejected by Germany within 48 hours if they had first applied for asylum in Spain. Germany is hoping to strike similar arrangements with both Greece and Italy.
According to Merkel, “The agreement makes it clear that if a country has problems with an issue, we will help that country”. She also reiterated her stance that the migration crisis required the participation of all EU member states, and not just front-line countries.
A statement released by the Spanish government highlighted that “Spain and Germany share the same goals on migration and are committed to a global approach that combines solidarity and responsibility based on three principles: dialogue and cooperation with countries of transit; boosting development cooperation in countries of origin, and respect for the rights of refugees and migrants”.
To that end, Sánchez and Merkel agreed to intensify their support for countries such as Morocco and Tunisia.
As Sánchez explained, “While there are just 14 kilometres separating Spanish, and therefore European, coasts from North Africa, there is a highly important distance of economic, social, human rights and political stability. The greater the gap the more travesties there will be in our Mediterranean waters. So, trying to close that gap of inequality must be one of our main goals in the present European Union”.
Specifically, Spain and Germany have called for a stronger commitment to the Trust Fund for Africa. The initiative, which was originally launched in 2015, aims to foster stability and contribute to better migration management. Both leaders want the European Commission to unlock aid for countries like Morocco and Tunisia in an effort to maintain tighter control of their borders.
For Spain, it is increasingly important that the EU works towards a functional solution to the migration crisis. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that the country has received more than 23,500 migrants already this year, exceeding the total number of new arrivals in 2017. As a result, Sánchez has also expressed his commitment, alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, in the creation of disembarkation centres, the strengthening of Frontex, and the imposition of fines on those EU member states that refuse to accept refugees. However, it is yet to be seen whether Sánchez’s shared vision with both France and Germany will make any headway at next month’s EU Summit. For the time being, these countries are committed to finding common ground through bilateral and multilateral agreements, which they hope will soon pave the way for an effective pan-EU solution.