BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that resolving escalating disputes over illegal migration represented a decisive test for the future of the European Union.
"For me, the question how we deal with the migration problem is something of a litmus test for the future and the cohesion of Europe," she told reporters after talks with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Merkel, as the EU's longest serving leader, expressed deep concern over bitter divisions within the bloc about how to deal with waves of people fleeing war and misery landing on the shores of the bloc or dying en route.
Her comments came amid a mounting row between European heavyweights France and Italy in which Paris branded Rome irresponsible for refusing this week to take in a rescue ship packed with hundreds of migrants.
Seeking to calm the dispute, Merkel noted that Italy had borne the brunt of the influx in recent years, "taking in a lot of refugees".
"We have to take the concerns of everyone in the European Union into account," she insisted.
"That sounds like the squaring of the circle but Europe must stick together."
Merkel is also currently embroiled in a growing row within her conservative camp pitting her against hardliners calling for Germany to turn back at its borders any asylum seeker already registered in another EU country.
The German leader said she feared that such a move could trigger a chain reaction and called for a negotiated EU response.
"Particularly in a situation in which Europe, especially on these issues, is in a very fragile state, it is very, very important to me that Germany not act unilaterally."