Tuesday 20 August 2019

Merkel buys time as she quells internal revolt over policy on migrant influx

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel

Patrick Donahue in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have defused one of the biggest bust-ups of her third-term coalition after quelling a political revolt from her Bavarian allies over her handling of the refugee crisis.

A nascent deal reached this week indicates Ms Merkel is reasserting her control over the domestic political drift Germany has witnessed recently amid coalition sniping that put her chancellorship in question.

While she has said many external factors will determine whether the flow of refugees can be stemmed - from government action in Turkey to a diplomatic solution to end the war in Syria - Merkel can also take heart from the latest polling that suggests her party's sliding support has halted.

"There were some threats, but Ms Merkel treated it quite calmly," said Manfred Guellner, head of Berlin-based pollster Forsa, adding that her party's poll numbers have probably reached the bottom.

"As far as power brokers in Berlin are concerned, nobody at the moment wants to risk the coalition in any serious way."

The chancellor struck the agreement with her chief internal critic, Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, removing his threat of unilateral action to halt the influx of refugees. Merkel and Seehofer were due to meet yesterday with Sigmar Gabriel - head of junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats - to hammer out a final deal.

All three have signalled in the last two days that they're aiming to put the dispute behind them.

"We will see if we can find common ground," Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

"If we don't find an agreement, we have to continue negotiating.

"That wouldn't be the first time, but everybody wants us to find a logical solution."

Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Roth, a member of the Social Democrats, ruled out a collapse of Merkel's government over the issue, responding to speculation that emerged for the first time in her 10-year chancellorship.

"People don't want to waste their time with party conflicts," Roth said earlier this week. "We have to work very hard, very intensively on sustainable solutions, and that's one of my major targets."

Seehofer, the chairman of the Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democrat Union, was assuaged by the chancellor's commitment to reduce the number of refugees.

Merkel said that would involve a series of measures including a political agreement with Turkey to protect that country's border and a resolution of the civil war in Syria, rather than shutting Germany's frontier or setting upper limits on those who can come in.

"No country in the world can accommodate a limitless flow of refugees," Seehofer said earlier this week, responding to the numbers of refugees arriving in Bavaria from Austria, issuing the biggest challenge yet to Merkel's open-door policy.

Speaking to business leaders in Dusseldorf, Merkel reiterated the need to cut the number of asylum-seekers and tackle the refugee crisis at its source in Syria, warning that a restoration of border controls within the EU would hit the free movement of goods and people.

"We probably need a European border guard, agreements with our neighbours and a fair distribution" of refugees in Europe, the chancellor said.

"That means we need a change to the existing asylum system, but a change that strengthens Europe and not a change that weakens Europe," she added.

Irish Independent

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