Merkel’s Bavarian allies signal reprieve in refugee row

Minister to present new plan to close borders to asylum-seekers arriving from EU countries

On Monday, federal interior minister Horst Seehofer from Bavaria (above) will present a new migration plan to close German borders to asylum-seekers arriving from other EU countries. File photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

On Monday, federal interior minister Horst Seehofer from Bavaria (above) will present a new migration plan to close German borders to asylum-seekers arriving from other EU countries. File photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Bavarian allies signalled on Sunday they will give the German leader two weeks to achieve a European refugee compromise and avoid the collapse of the Berlin coalition.

On Monday morning, federal interior minister Horst Seehofer from Bavaria will present a new migration plan, against Ms Merkel’s will, to close German borders to asylum-seekers arriving from other EU countries.

“I would be a poor federal interior minister if I didn’t insist on European and German law being adhered to, where people have clearly no perspective of staying,” writes Mr Seehofer in Monday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ) daily.

Mr Seehofer, leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), has threatened to instruct border police to turn back people without papers who have arrived from another EU member state.

“For such cases I must have the right of refusal,” he said, contradicting Dr Merkel, who says all asylum applications must be checked in Germany.

Fair refugee redistribution

However the CSU leader appeared to leave a back door open, arguing in the FAZ that it is “of decisive importance” that this month’s EU summit “finally reaches agreements that recognise Germany’s burden in the migration politics”, as well as effective border checks and fair refugee redistribution.

Dr Merkel gathered her allies at the Berlin headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on Sunday afternoon to watch Germany’s first World Cup match, discuss strategy against the CSU and to discuss the option of an emergency meeting of EU leaders affected by the refugee crisis.

Senior Merkel allies on Sunday talked up the prospects of such a meeting, in particular bilateral arrangements between member states to speed up return of asylum-seekers to the EU country where they first filed a claim. At present, Germany examines all asylum claims of those arriving at its borders.

“Our hand remains outstretched to the CSU,” said CDU general secretary Anngret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

On Sunday, Greek leader Alexis Tsipras, who crossed swords with Dr Merkel in the euro crisis, praised her efforts to find a workable and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis with his country on the front lines.

“Angela Merkel has been prepared to risk her political capital for this crisis,” he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

The crisis is likely to dominate Monday evening’s visit to Berlin of Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, and Tuesday’s Franco-German government consultations outside Berlin, also attended by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

Poisoned relations

The refugee clash has poisoned relations between the CDU and CSU and could yet shatter their decades-old Bundestag co-operation.

All eyes will be on Munich where, at 10am on Monday, Mr Seehofer has vowed to present his asylum master plan to party allies. CSU officials declined to comment on Sunday about whether he will make good on his threat and implement the plan, against Dr Merkel’s will. Meanwhile, her closest allies refuse to speculate on whether, in that case, the chancellor would fire him.

If that happens, and the CSU withdraw their support, her CDU and junior Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have 353 seats in the 709-seat Bundestag – three short of a majority. In the worst-case scenario, to avoid fresh elections, speculation is growing Dr Merkel could replace the CSU with the Greens.

A rupture with the CSU would cause uproar among conservatives in the CDU, long tired of Dr Merkel’s centrist political line and liberal refugee stance. They – along with the CSU – are pushing for a tougher European refugee policy in conjunction with Austria, which assumes the rotating EU presidency next month.

Last week, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz called like-minded European capitals seeking a more rigid migration policy in Europe to join Vienna in an “axis of the willing”.