Little sign of compromise in German government showdown
Future of Angela Merkel’s fledgling government is at stake as in-fighting over immigration policy threatens to split decades-old coalition
Chancellor Angela Merkel and her rebellious Bavarian allies searched on Monday for a way to end a stand-off over immigration after Germany’s interior minister offered to resign, but a compromise looked elusive in the dispute that has rocked the government.
The crisis that has raised questions over the future of Merkel’s more than three-month-old administration pits Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and his Bavaria-only Christian Social Union against Merkel, the head of its long-time sister party, the Christian Democratic Union.
Before a difficult Bavarian state election in October, the CSU is determined to show it is tough on migration. Seehofer wants to turn asylum seekers who have already been registered in another European Union country back at Germany’s border, but Merkel is adamant that Germany should not take unilateral action.
Seehofer and Merkel, who have long had a difficult relationship, have sparred over immigration policies on and off since 2015. However, the current dispute has erupted at a time when Germany is seeing far fewer newcomers than in that year’s influx.
Seehofer, who reportedly argues that measures to tackle immigration agreed at a European Union summit last week are not enough, said after his party’s top leaders met early on Monday that he would hold talks during the day with the CDU. The leadership of Merkel’s party approved a resolution on Sunday stating that “turning people back unilaterally would be the wrong signal to our European partners”.
It is unclear what effect Seehofer’s resignation as interior minister and CSU leader, if he goes through with it, would have on the two conservative parties’ governing coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats.
Over recent days, speculation had focused on the possibility of Merkel firing Seehofer if he went ahead unilaterally with his plan. That would probably end the seven-decade partnership of the CDU and CSU, which have a joint parliamentary group, and in turn would leave the government just short of a majority.
CDU leaders and lawmakers on Monday stressed the importance of maintaining intact the conservative alliance, Germany’s strongest political force for much of its post-war history.
Deputy CDU leader Armin Laschet said the party’s position is “independent of Horst Seehofer or Angela Merkel, because we want the European solution”.
Merkel maintains that a plan to regulate immigration that European Union leaders approved on Friday and bilateral agreements in principle that she hashed out with some countries for them to take back migrants would accomplish what Seehofer wants.
However, the more conservative CSU believes its credibility is at stake as it tries to curb support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party in the upcoming Bavarian election.
European agreements “will take a very long time” to take effect and there are uncertainties over which countries will join in, hardline Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said. “So I think action in Germany to strengthen European interests is absolutely necessary.”
But he also struck a conciliatory tone, saying “there is an abundance of possibilities … for compromises,” without specifying what they were. He insisted that the CSU isn’t questioning the government’s stability and does not want to break up the CDU-CSU partnership.
“We can achieve a lot in a government, but not outside,” Soeder said.
The Social Democrats, who have largely been bystanders so far, demanded that their coalition partners get their act together, and called for a meeting later on Monday with the conservative leaders. Party leader Andrea Nahles said “the CSU is on a dangerous ego trip that is paralysing Germany and Europe”.
“The blame game between CDU and CSU must end, because it is irresponsible,” she said. “My patience is gradually wearing thin.”