Saturday 25 May 2019

Merkel lifeline as rebel minister's party sides with her on migration

Angela Merkel had crisis talks with German interior minister. Photo: AP
Angela Merkel had crisis talks with German interior minister. Photo: AP

Abby Young-Powell

Angela Merkel's rebellious interior minister was looking increasingly isolated last night, after his party pledged support to the chancellor in their disagreement over migration.

Top officials with the Bavarian CSU dampened Horst Seehofer's threat to resign if his demands were not met by throwing their backing behind the coalition with Ms Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

It had been feared that Mr Seehofer's resignation could see the CDU follow him out of coalition and trigger the collapse of the government.

Markus Soder, the Bavarian CSU prime minister and Mr Seehofer's likely successor should he resign, said "we're ready for compromises" and "for us now there is no exit from the government".

Ms Merkel was backed by both her CDU and the CSU at a parliamentary meeting yesterday, at which Mr Seehofer was notably absent.

Mr Seehofer has been condemned for pushing Germany's governing coalition "to the brink" in recent weeks, after he challenged Ms Merkel by threatening to turn back migrants at the border against her wishes.

A frustrated Andrea Nahles, leader of the centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD), which governs with the CDU and CSU, said yesterday that her patience with the "reckless drama" has "now grown thin".

Mr Seehofer, who fears losing to the anti-immigrant AfD in forthcoming Bavaria state elections, had originally given Ms Merkel a deadline of Sunday to return from the EU summit with a Europe-wide solution to migration, before he carried out his threat.

Figures from the CSU initially welcomed the deal Ms Merkel struck, which included an agreement "on a political level" to take back some migrants who had passed through other EU countries on their way to Germany, as well as the establishment of EU processing centres.

But Mr Seehofer, who blames Ms Merkel's open-door refugee policy for his party's losses in last year's election to the AfD, said the measures had not gone far enough.

He offered his resignation at a meeting with leaders of his party on Sunday night - though he put it on hold ahead of a yesterday's meeting with the CDU.

Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), said he was worried the CSU would "plunge our country into chaos".

Despite his critics, Mr Seehofer displayed a combative attitude as he entered the crisis meeting with Ms Merkel yesterday afternoon. "I will not be dismissed by a chancellor who is only chancellor because of me," he told the 'Suddeutsche Zeitung' newspaper yesterday afternoon.

"The person who helped me in the saddle throws me out," he added bitterly.

On the way in to lengthy and likely heated talks he told journalists: "I hope it will be light when I come back."

The interior minister's migration "master plan", which he shared with the rest of his party on Sunday, lays out tough measures designed to curb immigration.

It includes the rejection of those who have already claimed asylum elsewhere - a sticking point with Ms Merkel - and plans for the expansion of detention centres, CSU sources say.

Mr Seehofer has been a long-standing critic of Ms Merkel and her immigration policy, and his resignation might seem to be a source of relief.

However, it is not yet certain who would replace him and what line they would take on the sticky and unresolved row over immigration.

Germany's ailing coalition government has been plagued by tensions since it was formed in February. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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