CSU pressure on Merkel over refugees has harmed party, poll shows

Observers suggest CSU demands on German chancellor may be running out of steam

German chancellor Angela Merkel: Forsa poll shows 71 per cent of Germans – and 68 per cent of Bavarians – support her push for a European solution to the refugee crisis ahead of the CSU push for national solutions. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel: Forsa poll shows 71 per cent of Germans – and 68 per cent of Bavarians – support her push for a European solution to the refugee crisis ahead of the CSU push for national solutions. Photograph: Eric Vidal/Reuters

 

Threats from Bavarian hardliners to turn back asylum seekers at German borders have undermined, not boosted, their political support and that of chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right light alliance, according to a new poll.

Merkel has been given one week by her interior minister Horst Seehofer to secure an EU asylum agreement, before he defies her by closing German borders to asylum seekers registered elsewhere, risking a collapse of the coalition government.

Allies of Merkel see the actions of Seehofer, leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), as a reckless attempt to boost his own party’s stagnant support ahead of state elections next October.

A new poll for the Forsa polling agency gives them further ammunition for this analysis. It shows support for the alliance of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Seehofer’s CSU at just 29 per cent – down four points since April.

Amid growing pressure to deliver on asylum, there was some good news for Merkel in the poll: some 71 per cent of Germans – and 68 per cent of Bavarians – support her push for a European solution to the refugee crisis ahead of the CSU push for national solutions.

The same poll suggested that, by pushing a hard asylum line in the last weeks, the CSU may have overshot its target: its support in Bavaria is stuck at 40 per cent, down from the almost 49 per cent it polled in the 2013 state election. Standing between it and an absolute majority: the immigration-critical Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

Report card

It remains unchanged at 13 per cent in polls despite a challenge from CSU to turn back asylum seekers already refused, or registered elsewhere in the EU.

The poll is a sobering 100-day report card for Bavarian state premier Markus Söder, a key figure in the asylum row that has brought Berlin’s coalition government to the brink. He has said the chancellor is not welcome on the campaign trail in Bavaria but, on Monday, the poll showed 43 per cent of Bavarians back her work – making her five points more popular than Söder

After modest progress at the weekend, Söder said the chancellor still had some way to go to satisfy his party before the July 1st deadline. “What is clear is in some questions, in particular some fundamental questions, the EU is still quite far apart,” he said.

But the Forsa poll of 1,003 people suggests three-quarters of Bavarians think there are problems “just as or even more important” than migration.

“With their ruthless campaign against the chancellor, the CSU leadership isn’t just hurting the union, they’re hurting their own party,” said Manfred Güllner, head of the Forsa polling agency.

With the clock ticking, Merkel will continue efforts on Tuesday to build new asylum alliances with the inaugural Berlin visit of new Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez, as well as European Council president Donald Tusk.

‘Blackmail’ efforts

On Monday, Merkel’s CDU executive committee backed her efforts to secure bilateral and European agreement on migration. One official said resolve was growing against CSU efforts to “blackmail” its sister party.

“We will not allow ourselves be dictated to from outside,” said Anngret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU general secretary,

Leading German political observers suggest the CSU hard line, that had the German chancellor on the run last week, may have run out of steam.

Most importantly, the Bavarian threat to pull the plug on the CDU/CSU alliance in a week’s time need not mean a snap election.

“CDU and Social Democrats (SPD) could continue for a few months as a minority government and perhaps add the Greens later,” said Prof Karl-Rudolf Korte of the University of Duisburg-Essen. “I still see some way to fresh elections, given the CDU and SPD seem to be closing ranks around Merkel rather than dissolving.”

Ahead of a crisis meeting of coalition partners today in Berlin, SPD leader Andrea Nahles said on Monday she “can’t say whether [the CDU and CSU] are willing and able to work together constructively in government”.

Struggling in polls below 20 per cent, the SPD leader has warned her coalition allies not to take for granted SPD support in the future. She fears a further slump if their centre-left supporters link them to new hardline asylum policies in Berlin.