Ger­man govt clash es­ca­lates as Merkel marks decade in power

CDU and CSU ex­change barbs af­ter Mu­nich congress

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BERLIN: The par­ties in Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s coali­tion gov­ern­ment ex­changed in­sults at the week­end in an es­ca­lat­ing clash over refugee pol­icy that has left the Ger­man leader look­ing more vul­ner­a­ble than at any time dur­ing her decade in power.

Di­vi­sions be­tween her con­ser­va­tives and the cen­tre-left So­cial Democrats (SPD) over ben­e­fits for refugees prompted coali­tion lead­ers to can­cel a spe­cial cab­i­net meet­ing planned for to­day where they had hoped to agree mea­sures to speed up the pro­cess­ing of asy­lum seek­ers.

But the big­gest fight was within Merkel’s own con­ser­va­tive ranks as mem­bers of her Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU) lined up to con­demn their Bavar­ian sis­ter party for hu­mil­i­at­ing the chan­cel­lor at a congress in Mu­nich on Fri­day evening. With Merkel stand­ing next to him, Horst See­hofer, the leader of the Bavar­ian Chris­tian So­cial Union (CSU), openly crit­i­cised her for re­fus­ing to put a for­mal cap on the num­ber of refugees en­ter­ing Ger­many. He was cheered loudly by mem­bers of his party as Merkel stood fid­get­ing un­com­fort­ably on the stage.

El­mar Brok, a se­nior mem­ber of Merkel’s CDU, de­nounced See­hofer’s be­hav­ior as “im­po­lite, un­seemly and un­ac­cept­able” in an in­ter­view with the Tagesspiegel news­pa­per. Other CDU mem­bers said the CSU leader had bro­ken a taboo in how the two par­ties be­have with each other.

See­hofer re­fused to back down, telling Ger­man tele­vi­sion sta­tion n-tv that he could not in good con­science tell a “fairy tale of har­mony and con­sen­sus” when ma­jor dif­fer­ences re­mained.

The barbs flew as Merkel marked her 10-year an­niver­sary in of­fice yes­ter­day. Her pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings have plunged from a gaudy 75 per­cent in April to be­low 50 per­cent and sup­port for her CDU/CSU bloc has dipped five points to 37 per­cent, still more than ten points ahead of the next strong­est party, the SPD.

LOOM­ING ELEC­TIONS

To pre­vent fur­ther dam­age, her ad­vis­ers say she must find a way to curb the num­ber of mi­grants en­ter­ing Ger­many, ideally by the spring when three state elec­tions will be held in a ma­jor test be­fore the next fed­eral vote in 2017. A party congress of her CDU in early De­cem­ber will be an im­por­tant gauge of how strong sup­port within her own party is.

“There are real Merkel loy­al­ists in the CDU and those that are more tac­ti­cal,” an of­fi­cial close to the chan­cel­lor told Reuters on con­di­tion of anonymity. “The CDU is not a party that pushes out its lead­ers. But you will see a shift if peo­ple get the sense that Merkel is a bur­den for them rather than a bonus.” Roughly 7,000 mi­grants have been en­ter­ing Ger­many each day in re­cent weeks, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, with the vast ma­jor­ity flow­ing into Bavaria over the Aus­trian border. Roughly a mil­lion are ex­pected to ar­rive this year alone.

Merkel has re­buffed calls from the CSU and mem­bers of her own party to im­pose a ceil­ing on the num­ber of refugees Ger­many will ac­cept, say­ing this would be im­pos­si­ble to en­force. To re­duce the num­bers, she is hop­ing Tur­key will agree to keep more refugees in ex­change for fi­nan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Union. She is also press­ing for so-called “hotspots” to be set up at Europe’s ex­ter­nal bor­ders, and for faster pro­cess­ing of mi­grants at home, so that those who are not granted asy­lum can be expelled more rapidly.

But SPD re­sis­tance to her do­mes­tic plans and op­po­si­tion in Europe, par­tic­u­larly east­ern coun­tries, to ac­cept­ing refugee quo­tas are sow­ing doubts about whether her strat­egy can suc­ceed.

“Up un­til a few months ago, most Ger­mans saw Merkel as a ra­tio­nal, re­li­able and risk-averse de­fender of a very com­fort­able Ger­man sta­tus quo,” the Frank­furter All­ge­meine Zeitung said in a week­end ed­i­to­rial. “Nowa­days, even in her own party, one hears the re­frain: we don’t rec­og­nize her any­more.” —Reuters

BERLIN: Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, Ger­man Fi­nance Min­is­ter Peer Steinbrueck, and Ot­mar Iss­ing, of the Ger­man Gov­ern­ment’s task force for fi­nance ar­chi­tec­ture, from right, brief the me­dia af­ter a meet­ing at the chan­cellery in Berlin. — AP file photo

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