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EU solidarity tested by rising refugee crisis

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People place paper boats with a hashtag #ChangeDublin in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday, a day ahead of the EU summit on migrant. Protesters want EU leaders to reform the Dublin Regulation, a system that examines applications for asylum seekers. Photo: IC

European leaders promised to help Chancellor Angela Merkel tackle a crisis in the bloc's migration policies on Thursday, offering the weakened German leader vital support before a high-stakes EU summit.

Arriving in Brussels, the leaders of Spain, Greece, Finland and Luxembourg all expressed support for Merkel's push to curtail "secondary migration" of refugees who arrive at the EU's southern border before heading north to Germany.

Europe's longest serving leader has come under acute political pressure from her hardline allies in Bavaria, who are threatening to close their border to migrants if she can't work out a deal with Germany's European partners.

That could trigger the collapse of Merkel's 3-month-old government and cause the EU's control-free Schengen travel zone to unravel.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told reporters that European solidarity on migration was vital, "especially with Germany which is now suffering a political crisis."

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel added: "There are so many people who arrived in different countries and then made their way to Germany. I understand when Germany says 'Why do we have to deal with everything?'"

Greece's Alexis Tsipras and Finland's Juha Sipila also promised to work with Germany on the issue.

Earlier, speaking in the German parliament, Merkel called on European leaders to forge a common approach to migration, calling it a "make or break" issue for Europe, where right-wing, anti-immigrant parties are gaining strength.

"Europe faces many challenges, but that of migration could become the make-or-break one for the EU," said Merkel, whose 2015 decision to open Germany's borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees divided Europe and continues to haunt her at home. "Now as then, I think that was the right thing to do," she told the Bundestag.

According to draft conclusions circulated before the two-day summit, the leaders will agree to measures to strengthen Europe's external borders, spend more on fighting illegal immigration and step up cooperation to prevent refugees and migrants from moving within the bloc.

But leaders remain deeply divided over how to handle asylum seekers, with eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary refusing to accept quotas of refugees while Italy and Greece struggle to cope with arrivals by sea.

A deal among all 28 EU states is unrealistic, so Merkel is pushing for a "coalition of the willing" on migration. She hopes that will appease the Christian Social Union (CSU), which has hardened its line before an autumn election in its home region of Bavaria, the main German entry point for migrants.

Convincing Italy to do a deal may be the biggest challenge. Its new government, which includes the anti-establishment 5-Star movement and far-right League, has rejected any moves that would make it handle more migrants.

At stake is EU members' unity and trust in each other, as well as the Schengen zone. A breakdown of Schengen would hit business and personal travel across the bloc, threatening jobs among the EU's half a billion people.



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