Merkel agrees deal with Bavarian allies ahead of election

German chancellor predicts ‘the most difficult election that I have experienced to date’

 Angela Merkel with Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union: The German chancellor  won the Bavarian party’s endorsement to run for a fourth term, removing a potential source of conflict within the alliance ahead of elections in September. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

Angela Merkel with Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union: The German chancellor won the Bavarian party’s endorsement to run for a fourth term, removing a potential source of conflict within the alliance ahead of elections in September. Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel has secured an uneasy truce with her boisterous Bavarian allies in a bid to secure a fourth term in office in September.

The fragile deal freezes, without resolving, a bitter two-year standoff on refugee limits between the Bavarian-only Christian Social Union (CSU) and Dr Merkel’s own Christian Democratic Union.

The centre-right alliance, known collectively as “the union” but wracked by disunity for two years, agreed to set aside their migration differences to face dual challenges: a rising far-right and a resurgent centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) under its new designated leader, Martin Schulz.

Dr Merkel, feeling the squeeze from all sides, admitted on Monday that September’s federal election “will be the most difficult election that I have experienced to date”.

The CSU risks making a difficult campaign more complicated, given its criticism of the Merkel refugee policy that saw almost 900,000 people seek asylum in 2015 alone.

Wary of AfD

On the refugee front line, the Bavarian CSU is wary of giving ground to the rising far-right Alternative für Deutschland. With that in mind, it threatened Dr Merkel with a constitutional challenge unless she imposed an annual refugee cap of 200,000.

The chancellor has consistently refused a cap, insisting that such a limit contradicts Germany’s obligations under international law to accept people seeking asylum.

“I have no intention of changing this position,” she told the Bavarians, forcing the party to fall into line.

But their frosty truce carries serious risks. Dr Merkel needs the support of her sister party, in power in Bavaria for decades, to bolster the centre-right camp in the Bundestag and ensure that hers is the alliance to beat in September’s federal election.

So she cannot afford to lose CSU seats, but she knows the CSU in particular cannot afford to face – and support – the populist Alternative für Deutschland. Yet the Bavarians fear precisely this could happen if it fails to secure its refugee cap, and if there is another inward migration – or Islamist terror attack.

Island of stability

At a joint press conference on Monday Dr Merkel and CSU head Horst Seehofer skirted the elephant in the room. “We are going into this election campaign together,” Mr Seehofer said. “Germany is an island of stability.”

Despite the chancellor’s refusal on the migration cap, Berlin managed to cap last year’s asylum numbers to 280,000 by pushing an EU-Turkey refugee swap deal. As well as the closure of the so-called Balkan route, Berlin has cut the number of countries whose citizens have a chance of securing asylum.

With their eyes on September’s federal poll, “the union” is anxious to end the current grand coalition arrangement with the SPD in favour of a new alliance.

To maximise their own vote, allies of Dr Merkel and Mr Seehofer have been sent out to spread uncertainty over the prospect of a centre-left coalition, lead by the SPD and including the Greens and the post-communist Left Party.