Merkel faces political revolt over her position on refugee crisis

Social Democratic Party wants German chancellor to impose cap on asylum applications

Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer said the federal government’s departure from standard EU asylum practice was endangering the stability of Germany’s federal states. Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer said the federal government’s departure from standard EU asylum practice was endangering the stability of Germany’s federal states. Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing an escalating political revolt after challenges to her position in the refugee crisis from her conservative allies and her Berlin coalition partners.

The centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), junior partner in the Berlin grand coalition, demanded Dr Merkel impose a cap on asylum applications as forecasts for 2015 near a million.

Meanwhile, her Bavarian allies, the ruling Christian Social Union (CSU), went one step further yesterday, threatening the German leader with a constitutional challenge unless she changes course.

Last month, Berlin instructed immigration authorities to process all asylum applications from Syrians, even if Germany was not their point of entry to the European Union.

Bavaria, on the front line with Austria, views this effective suspension of the so-called Dublin rules on asylum seekers as a disaster.

After an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday in Munich, Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer said the federal government’s departure from standard EU asylum practice was endangering the stability of Germany’s federal states.

“One is not acting in accordance with the law, the other wants that the law is adhered to,” said Mr Seehofer. “We are of the firm opinion that immigration must be managed and limited.”

Bavaria’s interior ministry has already threatened “emergency procedures” in the refugee crisis, including passing on new arrivals to other federal states.

A constitutional challenge, should it come to pass, is the nuclear option of German politics and would ramp up the political stakes in this fast-moving crisis.

On Wednesday, Dr Merkel warned that closing Germany’s borders would not solve the refugee crisis, adding that there was no upper limit on the right to asylum.

Her centre-left allies in Berlin are of a different opinion, warning in this weekend’s Der Spiegel that “in the long run, Germany cannot absorb more than one million people”.

The SPD’s Sigmar Gabriel and his colleague Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was time to impose migration limits, “otherwise the refugee question will tear our society apart”.

Their intervention comes just as a new opinion suggests that, on refugees, Germany is a country divided – and growing more pessimistic. Some 51 per cent of those quizzed by ZDF public television believe Germany cannot cope, up 10 points in two weeks. Some 45 per cent remain optimistic, down from 57 per cent in September.

As well as pressure from the CSU and SPD, the hard right Alternative für Deutschland has made a grab for the refugee crisis spotlight.