'We stand now at 16 countries having signalled their interest to join this informal meeting'
Some 16 EU leaders have now signalled their interest in joining a migrant crisis summit in Brussels Sunday aimed at finding a solution to who deals with asylum seekers.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called the meeting amid fresh divisions in Europe over who should process the migrants first, with Italy and Greece who have taken in the bulk of the arrivals saying that their EU peers must to more to share the burden.
“We started initially with a group of eight,” European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said.
“We stand now at 16 countries having signalled their interest to join this informal meeting.”
Winterstein said the additional eight are Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Luxembourg.
Officials said earlier this week that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat have all confirmed their attendance.
European sources also said the leaders of frontline states Italy and Greece will also be involved, as well as Austria and Bulgaria, who are the incoming and outgoing holders of the EU’s rotating six-month presidency.
The leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia -- the four countries that refuse migrants -- said Thursday they would not attend the meeting.
The meeting comes ahead of a full summit of all 28 European Union leaders next Thursday to discuss plans to overhaul the bloc’s asylum system, which has been under severe pressure since the migration crisis exploded in 2015.
According to a draft statement for Sunday’s meeting, leaders would speed up the return of asylum seekers from one EU state to another when the latter country is regarded as responsible for processing their application.
This is already provided for in the Dublin Regulation, which generally assigns responsibility for asylum seekers to the nation of first entry, but which is only partially applied and the principle of which is disputed by countries such as Italy.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had threatened to stay away but his cabinet said he would now attend after Merkel told him the draft will be shelved.