US & World

Germany migrants: Merkel allies leave Seehofer isolated

Angela Merkel (left) and Horst Seehofer. Photo: 27 June 2018Image copyright AFP
Image caption Chancellor Merkel is duelling with erstwhile ally Horst Seehofer (R)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has won pledges of support from key allies in Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), making its leader, her defiant interior minister, look increasingly isolated.

She is reported to be holding talks now with the minister, Horst Seehofer.

He has threatened to quit, demanding a right to turn irregular migrants away at Bavaria’s border. But Mrs Merkel defended a deal reached with the EU.

Top CSU officials say they want to stay in government with Mrs Merkel’s CDU.

Ending the alliance with the Christian Democrats (CDU) would leave the government without a parliamentary majority. Mr Seehofer’s defiance has made such a break look possible.

The leader of the third coalition partner, Andrea Nahles of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), is scheduled to join Mrs Merkel and Mr Seehofer for more crisis talks at 22:00 local time (20:00 GMT).

Coalition’s ‘common destiny’

Mrs Merkel got backing from both the CDU and CSU at a parliamentary meeting on Monday. Mr Seehofer was not there.

Alexander Dobrindt, leader of the CSU parliamentary group, said “a common destiny proves its worth only when it is challenged”. He praised 70 years of unity between the two centre-right parties, German media reported.

Bavaria’s CSU Prime Minister Markus Söder said “we’re ready for compromises” and “for us now there is no exit from the government”.

The BBC’s Jenny Hill in Berlin says Mr Seehofer might have overplayed his hand by issuing his ultimatum, only for Mrs Merkel to return from Brussels on Friday with an EU-wide strategy and bilateral agreements with more than 10 countries.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Passau in Bavaria was on the frontline of Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis

Opinion polls suggest that, in the event of a fresh election, the SPD would not profit from the CDU-CSU rift over migration.

But SPD leader Andrea Nahles warned that “my patience has worn thin”. “We want a humanitarian, but also realistic, migration policy,” she told a news conference.

How did the events unfold?

On Sunday evening, the CDU passed a resolution supporting Mrs Merkel’s position on migration. CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the party believed a European solution was necessary.

Then reports emerged from the CSU that Mr Seehofer had offered to step down both as party leader and interior minister.

Mr Seehofer complained that he had held a “conversation with no effect” with Mrs Merkel on Saturday.

Senior CSU figures, including Mr Dobrindt, immediately tried to persuade Mr Seehofer not to quit. Then early on Monday Mr Seehofer announced he had agreed to hold final talks with the CDU as a “concession”.

What could happen?

  • The CSU could put forward a new candidate for interior minister if Mr Seehofer does quit, keeping the ruling coalition intact
  • The CSU could end its alliance with the CDU, but then the Greens or Free Democrats (FDP) could do a deal to join the ruling coalition
  • Mrs Merkel could carry on weaker, with a minority government
  • She could quit as chancellor
  • She could call a confidence vote in the Bundestag, which could trigger fresh elections.

Is it a power struggle?

Yes. The CDU-CSU alliance has lasted for decades, but it could break up over this, at a critical time for both parties.

Bavarian state elections will be held in October, and the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is a threat to both parties.

The AfD surged into the German parliament (Bundestag) for the first time last year, winning 94 seats. Its success was based on strident anti-immigration rhetoric, attacking Mrs Merkel’s decision to let in more than a million asylum seekers in 2015-2016.

However, opinion polls have suggested that Bavarians are more satisfied with Mrs Merkel than with Mr Seehofer.

A new poll from RTL/n-TV suggests that CSU support has fallen 4.5% in Bavaria since the 2017 elections, to 34%. Nationally the party would be down to 5% – the threshold for entering the Bundestag – rather than 6.2% before.

The CDU is marginally down nationally to 26%, the poll indicates.

What is Mrs Merkel’s position?

Mrs Merkel stayed up with EU leaders until dawn on Friday to clinch a new deal on migrants.

She said Greece and Spain had agreed to take back migrants stopped at the Bavarian-Austrian border who are proven to have entered their countries first – a move she hoped would allay Mr Seehofer’s concerns.

“The sum of all we’ve agreed is equivalent to what the CSU wants,” she said.

However, Italy – where most irregular migrants arrive – does not want to take back migrants who reach Germany.

The divisions within the German government over the issue are also being played out in other EU countries, and three countries later said they were not part of the German deal: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

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