Merkel Ally Calls for EU Solution to Mission at Odds With Italy

(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel’s defense minister called for a European Union-level agreement to unblock a migrant-rescue mission in the Mediterranean Sea a day after she accused the Italian government of sabotaging sea-rescue efforts.

“We ask now for a political solution in Brussels, where the solution has to be found,” Ursula von der Leyen said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the World Economic Forum on Thursday. She said a “political block” prompted her decision to suspend a German naval deployment as part of the mission.

At the heart of the maritime dispute is the Italian government’s refusal to take rescued asylum seekers into its ports, disrupting the EU’s mission, dubbed Sophia. Von der Leyen earlier said that Italian commanders in Sophia had diverted German naval forces away from sea-rescue activity.

“The ship didn’t have any task anymore to fulfill,” von der Leyen said.

The episode is the latest point of conflict between Italy’s populist government -- swayed by the anti-migrant positioning of its deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini -- and European allies.

The defense minister, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, played down the dispute, saying that re-activating German naval participation would require a consensus among all the EU members.

“It’s not a matter of two countries; it’s a matter of the European Union, so it’s 28 countries,” von der Leyen said in the interview in Davos, Switzerland.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.