Mi­gra­tion row nib­bles away at Merkel’s frag­ile coali­tion

The National - News - - NEWS WORLD - DAMIEN McELROY Anal­y­sis AFP

An­gela Merkel is fac­ing the most se­ri­ous chal­lenge from within her own cen­tre-right coali­tion since tak­ing over as chan­cel­lor in 2005 amid a re­volt over pro­pos­als to turn asy­lum-seek­ers away at the Ger­man bor­der.

The chan­cel­lor’s Bavar­ian al­lies are back­ing the in­te­rior min­is­ter’s at­tempts to bring in a hos­tile asy­lum regime.

Horst See­hofer, the min­is­ter, has reached out to newly em­pow­ered right-wingers from Aus­tria and Italy to form an “axis” against lib­eral mi­gra­tion laws.

Pro­ceed­ings in the Bun­destag were halted yes­ter­day as Mrs Merkel sought to shoreup sup­port within her party, the Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union, after the re­volt from Mr See­hofer’s re­gional bloc, the Chris­tian So­cial Union.

The long-serv­ing Ger­man leader wants in­stead to mas­ter­mind a tighter Europe-wide pol­icy on mi­gra­tion and asy­lum. But after the party meet­ings the CSU said it was stick­ing to its de­mands that Mr See­hofer pro­ceeds with his leg­is­la­tion.

“We def­i­nitely stick to our point of view,” said Alexan­der Do­brindt, the CSU leader in par­lia­ment.

The new ap­proach would al­most cer­tainly mean a re-im­po­si­tion of per­ma­nent bor­der checks on the Ger­man fron­tier, some­thing that dis­ap­peared un­der Europe’s free­dom-of-move­ment laws.

Wolf­gang Mun­chau, an economist and com­men­ta­tor, said Mrs Merkel’s room for ma­noeu­vre in the cri­sis was lim­ited by the change of gov­ern­ments else­where.

“Im­mi­gra­tion crises are by na­ture cross-bor­der events, but there are fur­ther eerie par­al­lels be­tween the de­vel­op­ments in Ger­many and Italy right now. In Ger­many, there is now an open re­volt against An­gela Merkel, who is now des­per­ate to find a Euro­pean so­lu­tion within a very short pe­riod of time,” he said.

“Merkel met Horst See­hofer, CSU chief and in­te­rior min­is­ter, last night and put for­ward a com­pro­mise,” ac­cord­ing to the Ger­man news agency DPA. The idea is for Ger­many to strike bi­lat­eral agree­ments with Italy and Greece, un­der the um­brella or at least with the ac­qui­es­cence of the EU. Such deals would then make it pos­si­ble for Ger­many to re­ject im­mi­grants who have al­ready been reg­is­tered in those coun­tries at the bor­der. This is the cen­tral de­mand of Mr See­hofer and the CSU: a blan­ket re­jec­tion at the bor­der of any refugee al­ready reg­is­tered in an­other EU coun­try.”

How­ever, the ju­nior party does not be­lieve Mrs Merkel can de­liver her com­pro­mise and wants to press ahead with its own pro­posal. The emer­gence of di­vi­sions within the Ger­man gov­ern­ment takes the

cri­sis in Europe to a new level. In scenes un­think­able a year ago, the Aus­trian chan­cel­lor, who is in coali­tion with the far-right, shared a stage with Mrs Merkel’s dis­si­dent in­te­rior min­is­ter on Wed­nes­day.

Us­ing lan­guage that re­vived the ter­mi­nol­ogy of the Nazi era, Se­bas­tian Kurz said an axis of the will­ing should be formed to re­sist ris­ing num­bers of im­mi­grants in Europe. “Aus­tria’s chan­cel­lor Kurz has called this a ‘Berlin-Vi­enna-Rome axis’, said an­a­lyst Con­stanz Stelzen­muller. “Not the best as­so­ci­a­tion to in­voke. Still, it’s clear this is about regime change. The cul­ture wars have reached Berlin.”

In his very first act on tak­ing the in­te­rior min­is­ter job ear­lier this year, Mr See­hofer re­named his role as heimat (home­land) min­is­ter, an­other term heavy with Nazi era con­no­ta­tions.

With an au­tumn elec­tion loom­ing in Bavaria, Ger­many’s largest state, the CSU is keen to crush any threat from the ex­trem­ist Al­ter­na­tive for Deutsch­land.

“It’s de­ci­sion time,” Bavar­ian premier and See­hofer ally Markus Soeder said. “Some­times we have to think of our home pop­u­la­tion, not all of Europe.”

In fact, both cen­tre-right par­ties are in a grand coali­tion with the So­cial Demo­cratic Party of the cen­tre left. Its lead­ers said Mr See­hofer’s pro­pos­als were un­ac­cept­able. An­drea Nahles called for the quar­rel to end as soon as pos­si­ble. “Acts of drama in­tended to serve the cause of re­gional elec­tions aren’t ap­pro­pri­ate,” she said.

An­gela Merkel and Horst See­hofer are at odds over the fu­ture of Ger­many’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy and the rift is grow­ing

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