INNSBRUCK, Austria—European governments on Thursday failed to reach an agreement on redistributing migrants across the bloc, one of the thorniest issues facing the continent as a popular backlash against refugees gathers speed.
German Interior Minister
had hoped to use a meeting of EU counterparts here in the Austrian Alps to persuade his Italian counterpart,
to take back migrants who reach Germany via Italy.
But Mr. Salvini, leader of the anti-immigration League party that rose to power when voters turned against establishment groupings earlier in March, said he had declined and would instead focus on reducing the number of migrants in Italy.
Arrivals to Europe have dropped sharply since last year, but the challenge of integrating the more than two million who reached the continent since 2015 has boosted anti-immigration parties and put liberal governments on the defensive. The tide has also sown discord in the region, pitching governments against one another and threatening the continent’s document-free travel zone.
The strain has been particularly severe in Italy, which has been one of the main ports of arrivals for migrants crossing the Mediterranean, and in Germany, where most of the largely African and Middle Eastern asylum seekers who arrived in 2015 and 2016 have settled.
Mr. Seehofer sparked a government crisis last month, threatening to withdraw his support from Chancellor
government unless the coalition agreed to crack down on illegal entries in the country. Having secured a compromise, the minister is now in charge of rolling out the restrictive measures.
While Germany’s and Italy’s demands to resettle migrants across the bloc fell on deaf hears, the ministers agreed to continue to work on limiting the numbers reaching Europe’s shores.
“Above all, we must protect Europe’s external borders effectively,” said Mr. Seehofer, adding that elected governments shouldn’t let smugglers dictate who can emigrate to Europe.
The discussions in Austria largely reiterated the message sent by EU leaders last month at a meeting focused on making it harder for migrants to reach Europe and settle there. The leaders agreed to divert most asylum seekers to camps in North Africa and to detain those who manage to reach the continent.
But turning the tough words into action has proven difficult and may take time. No country has yet to agree to host one of the refugee camps Europe wants to build outside the continent.