Ger­man in­te­rior min­is­ter pulls out of Merkel's in­te­gra­tion sum­mit

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Kate Con­nolly in Ber­lin

Ger­many’s in­te­rior min­is­ter, Horst See­hofer, has can­celled his par­tic­i­pa­tion in an in­te­gra­tion sum­mit hosted by An­gela Merkel amid in­creas­ing signs of ma­jor dis­agree­ments be­tween them over the coun­try’s asy­lum pol­icy.

The ab­sence fol­lows his de­ci­sion on Tuesday to drop the launch of an “im­mi­gra­tion mas­ter­plan” af­ter the Ger­man chan­cel­lor re­fused to back a cru­cial point of the plan that would al­low mi­grants deemed to be try­ing to en­ter the coun­try il­le­gally to be turned back at the Ger­man bor­der, ar­gu­ing that it would breach Eu­ro­pean law. She in­sisted the mas­ter­plan was still be­ing dis­cussed in de­tail.

Merkel has at­tracted crit­i­cism par­tic­u­larly within her CDU party for fail­ing to back See­hofer’s push for stricter im­mi­gra­tion rules amid cross-party con­cern that Ger­man asy­lum pol­icy is in dis­ar­ray.

In­stead of at­tend­ing the sum­mit, See­hofer said he was meet­ing the Aus­trian chan­cel­lor, Se­bas­tian Kurz, who on Wednesday said hard­line in­te­rior min­is­ters from Italy, Aus­tria and Ger­many had formed an “axis of the will­ing” to com­bat il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

The claim marks a shot across the bow for Merkel, who is try­ing to pull to­gether a deal for EU co­op­er­a­tion on plac­ing asy­lum seek­ers.

Kurz has been push­ing for more strin­gent im­mi­gra­tion rules across the EU, but is not fully be­hind See­hofer’s plan to re­turn peo­ple to the coun­try in which they were first reg­is­tered.

Merkel has stead­fastly re­fused to sanc­tion See­hofer’s plan, in­sist­ing on find­ing a Eu­ro­pean so­lu­tion to il­le­gal mi­gra­tion that would re­quire en­hanced con­trols along the ex­ter­nal bor­der of the EU.

Be­fore her meet­ing with Kurz on Tuesday, Merkel said the is­sue was cru­cial and had the po­ten­tial to se­ri­ously dam­age Eu­rope if a rem­edy was not found soon.

See­hofer also made clear his anger that his speech at Wednesday’s sum­mit was to be pre­ceded by a speech by the Turkish-Ger­man au­thor Ferda Ata­man, who has ac­cused the in­te­rior min­is­ter of adopt­ing Nazi ten­den­cies by choos­ing to re­name his depart­ment the Heimat, or home­land, min­istry. She has ar­gued that the word “Heimat” in the con­text in which See­hofer has cho­sen to use it – namely to pro­tect Ger­many – is a re­sponse to “ram­pant xeno­pho­bia” and plays to the “blood and soil” pol­i­tics of Nazism. See­hofer has ve­he­mently re­jected the Nazi com­par­i­son.

The is­sue is ex­pected to con­tinue to re­veal ever deeper rifts in the young coali­tion gov­ern­ment. See­hofer, the leader of Merkel’s coali­tion al­lies, the Bavar­ian Chris­tian So­cial Union (CSU), has been on a col­li­sion course with the chan­cel­lor ever since her de­ci­sion to al­low an in­flux of more than a mil­lion mi­grants in 2015 and 2016. Most of the new­com­ers ar­rived in Ger­many via Bavaria.

See­hofer’s “im­mi­gra­tion mas­ter­plan” also in­volves so-called an­chor cen­tres, where im­mi­grants’ de­tails would be reg­is­tered, and huge ac­com­mo­da­tion shel­ters where asy­lum seek­ers could stay while await­ing news on their ap­pli­ca­tions.

The CSU is keen to demon­strate its tough­ness on the is­sue in the runup to a state elec­tion in Oc­to­ber in which it will seek to claw back sup­port it has lost to the anti-im­mi­grant Al­ter­na­tive für Deutsch­land.

This month the CSU in­tro­duced a law in Bavaria re­quir­ing all pub­lic build­ings, in­clud­ing schools and uni­ver­si­ties, to hang a cru­ci­fix in their en­trances.

Pho­to­graph: Carsten Koall/Getty Im­ages

Horst See­hofer (right) met the Aus­trian chan­cel­lor, Se­bas­tian Kurz, in­stead of at­tend­ing the sum­mit.

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