Newspaper article International New York Times

France Takes a Back Seat on Migrants

Newspaper article International New York Times

France Takes a Back Seat on Migrants

Article excerpt

Compared with Germany, France appears to be losing ground as a voice to be reckoned with in Europe.

The French-German couple has always been assumed to be the engine of the European Union, the crucial team at the heart of a sprawling, unruly family of 28 nations.

But in recent months, if not years, the tandem has become visibly lopsided. As Germany takes the lead on crisis after crisis -- from the euro to migration -- the question keeps popping up: Where is France?

"Why has France not stepped up to make the voice of Germany's main partner heard, even as the migration crisis turns into a nightmare and threatens Europe's very existence?" the French newspaper Le Monde asked on March 6, just as Chancellor Angela Merkel began a final push to work out the migration deal with Turkey, which was reached on Friday and went into effect on Sunday.

The reasons for France's muted role on the migration issue are connected to domestic politics, said Pascale Joannin, general manager at the Robert Schuman Foundation, a think tank based in Paris that focuses on the European Union.

With one of Europe's most stubbornly high unemployment rates and a far-right anti-immigrant party gaining popularity, France is in no mood to roll out the welcome mat for the migrants trying to make a home on the Continent, Ms. Joannin said.

Nor is France among the preferred destinations for most of the refugees and economic migrants now heading to Europe -- as suggested by the thousands who are huddling in northern France but trying against all odds to cross the English Channel to Britain.

"France and Germany do not have a common position on migration, which is one reason why Europe has been skating around the issue since last September," Ms. Joannin said.

The gap was exposed in February, when Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France, speaking in Munich, knocked back taunts from the French news media that the country needed a Merkel of its own, and challenged the chancellor's open-arm policy toward the migrants, to the irritation of his German hosts. …

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