BFF-74 Merkel on tightrope over disputed migrant policy

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BFF-74

GERMANY-POLITICS-EUROPE-MIGRANTS

Merkel on tightrope over disputed migrant policy

BERLIN, June 12, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel was
fighting Tuesday to stamp out the first major row within her uneasy
coalition, as disputes over her refugee policy returned to haunt her while
she negotiates a broad EU asylum deal.

The discord within her conservative bloc burst into the open on Monday when
hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, of Merkel’s Bavarian allies CSU,
hastily cancelled the presentation of his tough new “masterplan” on
immigration.

The interior ministry said in a short statement that the unveiling of the
plan had been pushed back, acknowledging that “several points still need to
be agreed”.

Merkel has made clear she rejects a plan to turn back at German borders any
asylum-seeker already registered in another EU country, arguing that her
country shouldn’t go it alone while Europe searches for a common policy.

Seehofer, the former premier of conservative Bavaria state, has long been
one of the fiercest critics of Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders at
the height of Europe’s migration crisis in 2015.

Highlighting the chasm, Seehofer invited to Berlin Italy’s far-right
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who on Monday flatly refused to allow a
rescue vessel carrying hundreds of migrants to dock.

Salvini and Seehofer in a phone call were in “full harmony on security and
immigration policies” and agreed that the EU must “not waste any more time”
and protect its external borders, said the interior ministry in Rome.

Seehofer, citing scheduling difficulties, will also stay away from a
chancellery “integration summit” Wednesday for volunteers, aid workers and
officials helping refugees settle in Germany — a move the opposition Greens
party labelled an “affront” to all involved.

But Merkel and Seehofer both signalled they wanted a quick end to the spat.

They told conservative lawmakers in Berlin that they would try to negotiate
a solution “in the coming days”, participants who attended the meeting told
AFP.

– ‘They must be turned back’ –

The arrival of more than a million asylum seekers, many fleeing war-torn
Syria and Iraq, since 2015 has deeply divided Germany and reshaped the party
political landscape.

Voters handed Merkel her worst-ever score in September’s elections as well
as giving the far-right AfD seats for the first time in the Bundestag.

With a crucial state election in Bavaria coming up in October, Seehofer and
his Christian Social Union (CSU) party are anxious to stop the haemorrhage of
support to the anti-migrant and Islamophobic AfD.

Standing has said he believes that all points of his plan are “necessary”
to restore “order in Germany” and that he would not “publish a half-baked
plan with lazy compromises”.

The CSU’s secretary general Markus Blume said Germans wanted to see the
government get immigration under control.

“We won’t give in!” he told Bild newspaper.

Underlining what is at stake, broadcaster Deutschlandfunk said if no deal
is found, Seehofer’s choice “would be resignation or dismissal”, spelling
“the end of the coalition”.

Three years after the migration crisis erupted, the inflow has slowed
dramatically but the coalition is still bickering over what would be a
sustainable solution.

Within Merkel’s CDU party too, some are openly championing Seehofer’s
vision, including Saxony state premier Michael Kretschmer.

“Of course they must be turned back at the border,” he said. “That’s why we
have police at the border and it is right to have them there.”

– ‘Wait for reform’ –

For the chancellor, the only sustainable solution would be a Europe-wide
agreement — a point she will likely push when she meets later Tuesday with
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose country would be hardest hit if
Germany were to close its doors.

Ironically though, Kurz shares Seehofer’s criticism of Merkel’s refugee
policy and is due to meet the interior minister on Wednesday.

Merkel has the backing for now of the third party in her coalition, the
Social Democratic Party. It too rejects stepping up border controls of asylum
seekers, which it says goes against the spirit of the Schengen passport-free
zone.

But demands from the populist and far-right leaning forces in Italy,
Austria and elsewhere are complicating Merkel’s push for EU solidarity in
dealing with immigration issues, an issue to be covered at a June 28-29
summit.

With Austria taking over the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1,
Merkel is hoping to convince Kurz to sign up to a system of “flexible
solidarity” and help put in place an effective European border police.

BSS/AFP/MRI/2302 hrs