Hardly is Angela Merkel's vacation over, and fresh headaches are approaching. She began the late summer with an urgent trip to Spain on Saturday, when she attempted to start picking at the tightest and most complicated of Gordian knots — how to regulate migration in Europe. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had already become the one of the first European leaders to reach a new bilateral migration deal with Germany, which means Berlin will be able to send a few refugees back to Spain if they have already registered there.
The most profound byproduct of that agreement, and the deals that Merkel's administration will be trying to strike in the coming weeks, is that Germany has been forced to admit the Dublin system is no longer functioning.
The Dublin agreement, first put together in the 1990s, is meant to determine which European Union state is responsible for asylum applications, but in practice it often means that applications are not properly heard, potentially violating migrants' rights. The Dublin procedure almost descended into chaos in 2015 and 2016, when it had to be partially suspended as a result of the bureaucratic crisis triggered by an influx of refugees into Europe from Syria.
Whatever solution Merkel finds, it will likely be incremental — though with European Parliament elections approaching next year, she and other EU leaders will be hoping for tangible results sooner rather than later.
Spain, along with France, is one of the few major non-populist governments left in Europe, making it a vital ally for Germany. That dwindling group faces a showdown with the more right-wing governments on September 20, when Austria is hosting an informal EU summit.
Austria, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, is one of the countries pursuing an increasingly draconian migration policy, and for Merkel and Sanchez, the summit could become a dragon's den scenario: They will have to defend a new cooperative deal with so-called countries of origin and transit, such as Morocco and Libya, who are demanding more help from the EU to prevent migrants coming to Europe.
Given the confrontational mood in Europe, it seems unlikely that the suffering of the migrants in North Africa will be high on the agenda. The Moroccan human rights organization AMDH has reported that the government there had recently destroyed camps near the Spanish enclave of Melilla and bused several hundred migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, back to the country's interior.
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