Germany’s Merkel faces race against time in migrant standoff
Angela Merkel faces a race against time to defuse a dispute over migration that has ballooned into the most serious threat yet to her 12 ½-year reign as German chancellor, and she could use help from her European partners.
The bitter argument erupted suddenly two weeks ago. It pits Merkel against Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his Bavaria-based Christian Social Union party, which is focused on a challenging October election in its home state.
It has exposed deep tensions in her fourth-term governing coalition, just over 100 days in office. Speculation is rife about a possible breakup of the conservative bloc of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and Seehofer’s CSU, which together have been Germany’s leading political force for much of its post-war history.
That, in turn, could trigger a collapse of the government.
Seehofer wants Germany to turn back migrants at the border who have previously applied for asylum or registered as asylum-seekers in other European countries.
Merkel, however, is determined that Germany shouldn’t take unilateral action without agreement with other EU countries, fearing a cascade of uncoordinated decisions that could further fray European unity.
The CSU gave her two weeks to make deals with other European countries. Seehofer, the party leader, is threatening to push through his plan under his powers as interior minister against the chancellor’s will next week if it isn’t satisfied.
Merkel instigated a mini-summit of 16 European Union countries on migration in Brussels Sunday, which produced few concrete results. On Thursday and Friday, she hopes for more progress at a full summit of the 28-nation EU, though in case that fails she is also seeking agreements with individual countries on issues such as taking back migrants.
Tensions over migration have inflamed political debate across Europe, with governments struggling to agree in recent years on how to handle newcomers and populist parties taking a share of power in some countries.
On Sunday, Merkel’s CDU and Seehofer’s CSU will hold separate leadership meetings to mull what has been achieved. So far, no compromise that would satisfy both sides has emerged. Neither yet appears prepared to lose face by climbing down.
Seehofer argues that he’s entitled to order migrants turned back unilaterally, but leading CDU members have made clear that Merkel would then have little choice but to fire him — which in turn would almost inevitably prompt the CSU to quit the government.