Sunday 18 August 2019

Merkel faces mutiny from party over 'open door' for refugees

Angela Merkel
Angela Merkel

Justin Huggler in Berlin

Angela Merkel is facing an outright rebellion within her own party after two of her most senior ministers directly challenged her "open-door" refugee policy.

The German chancellor's office was forced to intervene at the weekend to block an unauthorised attempt by interior minister Thomas de Maiziere to change the asylum rules for Syrian refugees.

But Wolfgang Schaeuble, the influential finance minister, has since come out in support of Mr de Maiziere's initiative, alongside a host of senior party figures.

The interior minister recently ordered ministry officials to stop automatically recognising Syrians as refugees under the Geneva conventions, it has emerged. He wants most Syrians to be granted "subsidiary protection", a more limited form of temporary asylum, and prevent them from bringing family members to Germany.

Ms Merkel's office quickly overturned the order, which appeared to have been issued without the chancellor's knowledge.

But Mr Schaeuble spoke out in support of the idea. "Of course, we have to limit family reunification, because our capacity is not unlimited," he told ARD television. "I consider this a necessary decision and I'm sure we can quickly reach agreement on it in the coalition." In a second interview he said: "If they all want to come to Europe, instead of solving the problems in Syria, they will never be solved."

The challenge from the two most senior ministers from her own party has left Ms Merkel increasingly reliant on her coalition partner, the Social Democrats, for support for her policy. Germany expects to host at least 800,000 asylum seekers this year, and there are growing concerns that the right to "family reunification" could see the country overwhelmed.

Mr de Maiziere's move was a direct challenge to Ms Merkel, who has staked her political future on her refugee policy. Germany grants most Syrians full asylum automatically, and has even waived EU rules under which refugees should apply for asylum in the first member state they reach.

It is not the first time Ms Merkel and her interior minister have clashed over refugee policy. When Mr de Maiziere was seen to have mishandled the crisis earlier this year, Ms Merkel removed control of asylum from his ministry and put it under direct control of her own office.

It appears Mr de Maiziere did not inform the chancellery of his new initiative.

Peter Altmaier, Ms Merkel's refugee coordinator, said that the first he heard of it was an angry call from Sigmar Gabriel, the vice-chancellor.

Mr Altmaier described the episode as a "brief irritation", but Robert Habeck, an opposition Green party politician, called it an "attempted coup". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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