Immigration pol­icy will be key to Merkel form­ing new coali­tion

The Sunday Telegraph - - World news - By Justin Hug­gler in Ber­lin

IT COULD take un­til next year for An­gela Merkel to form a new gov­ern­ment fol­low­ing the Ger­man elec­tions, one of her clos­est ad­vis­ers said this week.

In Ger­many, elec­tion win­ners rarely get time to cel­e­brate. That is when the hard work of putting to­gether a coali­tion be­gins – and it is more dif­fi­cult than usual for Mrs Merkel this year, after a bruis­ing re­sult saw her party lose 65 seats and its old coali­tion part­ner.

“Last time, we just made it by Christ­mas. I’d like to man­age that again this time, but it’s the de­tail that mat­ters, not the date,” said Peter Alt­maier, Mrs Merkel’s chan­cellery min­is­ter and one of her most trusted fix­ers.

Immigration and Mrs Merkel’s con­tro­ver­sial refugee pol­icy are key is­sues in the ne­go­ti­a­tions, with her own Bavar­ian sis­ter party de­mand­ing changes.

In a sign Mrs Merkel ex­pects pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions, she is ex­pected to name Mr Alt­maier as tem­po­rary fi­nance min­is­ter to re­place Wolf­gang Schäu­ble, who will be­come speaker.

But Mr Alt­maier will not stay for the long term. Mr Schäu­ble is only step­ping down so Mrs Merkel can offer the fi­nance min­istry to a coali­tion part­ner.

That her Chris­tian Demo­crat party (CDU) has to give up the sec­ond most pow­er­ful post in gov­ern­ment is in­di­ca­tion enough of how the arith­metic has changed for Mrs Merkel. But de­spite the tough ne­go­ti­a­tions, there are signs it may not be so dif­fi­cult for Mrs Merkel to put to­gether a gov­ern­ment.

A three-way coali­tion with the Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens is her only re­al­is­tic option, after her ex-part­ners the So­cial Democrats (SPD) an­nounced they will go into op­po­si­tion.

But she may not be as boxed in as she seems. A two-way al­liance with one of the FDP or the Greens was be­lieved to be Mrs Merkel’s pre­ferred option be­fore the elec­tion.

In a three-way coali­tion, she will be able to play the pro-business FDP and the centre-left Greens off against each other, and oc­cupy her favoured centre ground. Her prob­lem is get­ting the two

par­ties, which are poles apart, to work to­gether. There were hope­ful signs on that front this week when the Rheinis­che Post news­pa­per pub­lished what it said were leaked de­tails of se­cret talks be­tween the FDP and the Greens on di­vid­ing up the min­istries be­tween them.

The re­port said the FDP wants the fi­nance, jus­tice and ed­u­ca­tion mi­nis-

tries, while the Greens want the eign and en­vi­ron­ment min­istries.

That could leave Mrs Merkel with too few big min­istries for her own party, but would be a sign the two smaller par­ties can work to­gether. Be­fore Mrs Merkel can start talks, however, she needs to get her own house in or­der. The Chris­tian So­cial Union

for-

(CSU), her Bavar­ian sis­ter party, is up­set after suf­fer­ing a dis­as­trous elec­tion.

Horst See­hofer, its leader, has made it clear he be­lieves Mrs Merkel’s refugee pol­icy is the prob­lem.

He is de­mand­ing an up­per limit on the number of asy­lum seek­ers al­lowed in each year as the price of his party’s sup­port – some­thing Mrs Merkel has re­sisted. But even here she has some room to ma­noeu­vre – thanks to her po­ten­tial new part­ners the Greens who fiercely op­pose any up­per limit and the FDP are putting for­ward an al­ter­na­tive pro­posal that could be help a com­pro­mise.

The FDP wants a new immigration pol­icy to dis­tin­guish be­tween po­lit­i­cal refugees flee­ing per­se­cu­tion, those flee­ing wars who would be al­lowed to stay only on a tem­po­rary ba­sis, and eco­nomic mi­grants, for whom it wants a Cana­dian-style points sys­tem.

If Mr See­hofer digs his heels in, Mrs Merkel still has the “nu­clear option” of threat­en­ing to run CDU can­di­dates against the CSU in Bavar­ian re­gional elec­tions next year, which could split the vote and rob the CSU of its ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity in the Bavar­ian par­lia­ment.

The big­gest dan­ger to Mrs Merkel ap­pears to be from within her own party. Jens Spahn, ju­nior min­is­ter in the fi­nance min­istry, touted as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor, was close to re­bel­lion in a party com­mit­tee meet­ing this week, when he chal­lenged Mrs Merkel’s nom­i­na­tion for Volker Kauder to re­main the CDU’s par­lia­men­tary leader.

“For how long?” Mr Spahn, 37, asked but he was pub­licly slapped down by Mr Schäu­ble.

Carsten Lin­ne­mann, the leader of the CDU’s pro-business wing, is an­other po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor.

An­gela Merkel has to get pro-business FDP and centre-left Greens to work to­gether

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