BERLIN/MUNICH—German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Bavarian allies agreed to give her a two-week breathing space on Monday, June 18, to find a European solution to a row over immigration that threatens to scupper her three-month-old coalition government.
Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU) wants a ban on admitting migrants into Germany who have already registered in another EU country. Merkel opposes such a ban.
The CSU leadership agreed at a meeting in Munich to delay introducing their entry ban until after a June 28-29 European Union summit, allowing Merkel time to seek an EU-wide solution.
Merkel opposes any unilateral move by German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who is also CSU chairman, that would reverse her 2015 open-door policy on migrants and undermine her authority. Monday’s compromise means he can introduce immediate expulsion for one subset of migrants.
“We wish the chancellor much luck,” Seehofer told a news conference in Munich, announcing that he would nonetheless issue orders for people who have already been expelled to be turned back at the borders.
“This is not about winning time or anything like that but rather that in July, if there is no result at European level, we must implement this—that is a question for the functioning of our constitutional state,” he added.
Germany’s migration row mirrors squalls seen across Europe since Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open Germany’s borders to more than a million migrants fleeing wars in the Middle East, transforming the demographic landscape almost overnight.
The CSU hopes its tough line will help it see off a challenge from the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in wealthy Bavaria’s October election.
Federal interior ministry data shows the number of new arrivals in Germany seeking asylum fell 33 percent on the year to 186,000 in 2017, down from 280,000 the previous year and 890,000 in 2015, at the peak of the migrant crisis.
Merkel, the EU’s longest-serving leader, welcomed Monday’s compromise in a dispute that has threatened to unravel her new coalition, and said her Christian Democrat (CDU) party would decide how to proceed after the two-week deadline elapsed.
“The CDU and the CSU have the common goal of better organising and steering immigration into our country and significantly reducing the number of people entering this country,” she said.
“A situation like 2015 cannot and will not be repeated.”
But she reiterated her opposition to Germany unilaterally closing its borders as this would pass the migrant burden on to neighbouring countries, “unleashing undesired domino effects”.
A split with the CSU, their ally of seven decades, would deprive the CDU of the governing majority it commands in the Bundestag lower house in coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD). It would also gravely weaken the CSU, whose dominance of Bavarian politics relies on its influence in Berlin.
Perhaps reflecting that nervousness, Seehofer later added: “Nobody wants the end of the coalition, a collapse of the alliance or the fall of the government.”
Merkel would still have options if the CSU quit the coalition: Greens leader Annalena Baerbock refused on Monday to rule out replacing the CSU in Merkel’s coalition. “If we’re in a talks situation in a few weeks, we’ll talk,” she said.
By Thomas Escritt and Jörn Poltz