Merkel given two weeks to come up with migrant solution

Chancellor denies CDU allies in Bavaria blackmailing her to back tougher asylum rules

German chancellor Angela Merkel: CDU conservatives opposed to her  refugee policies have welcomed the pressure on her from Horst Seehofer. Photograph: Christian Bruna

German chancellor Angela Merkel: CDU conservatives opposed to her refugee policies have welcomed the pressure on her from Horst Seehofer. Photograph: Christian Bruna


After Germany’s disastrous start to the World Cup, Berlin’s coalition crisis has gone into extra time. On Monday, chancellor Angela Merkel was granted two weeks to improve regulation of asylum seekers at EU level – or else her interior minister will close Germany’s borders against her wishes.

In remarkable, parallel press conferences in Berlin and Munich, Dr Merkel and her Bavarian interior minister Horst Seehofer sent very different signals about the fortnight ahead.

She denied her Bavarian allies had blackmailed her into backing tougher asylum rules and warned that border closures without her consent would call into question her three-month-old government.

“Migration can only be solved on a European level, it’s a European issue,” said Dr Merkel.

But Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) unanimously backed a national migration plan, ordering border police to refuse entry with immediate effect to people already prohibited from entering Germany. CSU leader Mr Seehofer said from July 1st police should be ready to refuse entry to asylum seekers who have already filed applications elsewhere in the EU.

The stand-off that has brought Germany’s coalition to the brink of collapse was, he said, down to a “fundamental dissent” between his CSU and its sister party, Dr Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

National solution

“We want a national solution unless a European one comes about,” he said, “while the CDU doesn’t want a national solution”.

With the clock ticking, Germany is pushing for emergency refugee talks this weekend ahead of the EU summit a week later. Dr Merkel’s hope is to reduce asylum numbers at home by striking bilateral agreements with countries like Italy and Greece, convincing them to take back from Germany people who already filed for asylum there.

One model is the EU-Turkey deal, whereby Ankara agreed to take back asylum seekers in exchange for EU funding to house, feed and educate them.

“This is no easy task but I think it is worthwhile to keep the CDU and CSU together and to move on further in Europe,” said Dr Merkel.

After the EU June summit, she said CDU and CSU leaders would review the situation with no “automatic” progression to border closures.

In Munich, Mr Seehofer contradicted her, insisting his proposals would would not “land in a file” but be “implemented immediately” at the start of July if the chancellor failed to secure European agreement on refugee measures “equivalent in effect”.

“This is a responsibility no one can take from me,” he said. “I stand to my responsibility not just for the rule of law but for the credibility of my party.”

State elections

Mr Seehofer’s CSU, facing state elections in October, is determined to flex its law-and-order muscles to beat back the far-right Alternative für Deutschland, save its absolute majority and avoid a repeat of last year’s federal election debacle.

But Dr Merkel and her CDU allies fear unilateral action from Germany – or even the threat of it – will undermine the prospects for bilateral deals, already dwindling hopes of a European refugee quota and possibly reignite the refugee crisis of 2015-2016.

Beyond risking the decades-old CDU-CSU alliance, the refugee row has become a proxy power battle between the older and younger guard in Germany’s centre-right.

CDU conservatives opposed to Dr Merkel’s refugee policies have welcomed the pressure on her from Mr Seehofer, in turn being leaned on by CSU Bavarian state premier Markus Söder.

He supports Austria’s call for an “axis of the willing” on migration and, on Monday, the Bavarian premier said the refugee row was an example of European multilateralism being superseded by “individual countries who make decisions”.