Monday 17 December 2018

Merkel under pressure to tighten policy on refugees

Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the Reichstag in Berlin after a day of wrangling within the CDU and the CSU. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves the Reichstag in Berlin after a day of wrangling within the CDU and the CSU. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

David Rising

Pressure grew on Angela Merkel from the right wing of her conservative bloc yesterday to tighten Germany's refugee policies and allow some migrants to be turned away at the borders.

The Chancellor faces a major challenge to her authority that echoes wider European disagreements on how to deal with the huge numbers of asylum-seekers.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has proposed turning back refugees who have already registered in other European countries, as part of a lengthy "masterplan" to curb unauthorised immigration.

He also wants to block migrants whose asylum applications in Germany have been rejected from returning to the country.

His news conference to announce the details of the plan was called off on Tuesday after he and Ms Merkel couldn't agree, and he is now pushing for a resolution by the end of the week.

Yesterday the leader of Mr Seehofer's Bavarian-only Christian Social Union (CSU) in parliament said the party supported him and would not back down, and suggested it might try to force through changes at a state level. That could cause a break in the longtime alliance with Ms Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"We are in a serious, a very serious situation," said Alexander Dobrint, who added that the issue would be discussed in Bavaria with party leaders on Monday.

The comments came as both the CSU and Ms Merkel's CDU each held emergency consultations on refugee policy.

Germany has received more than one million asylum seekers since 2015 and Ms Merkel has acknowledged the need to improve systems and strengthen the European Union's external borders.

But she argues turning migrants away at the borders could violate European regulations, and potentially increase pressure on countries such as Italy and Greece.

Migrant numbers have declined steeply in the past two years, but Germany is still registering about 11,000 new asylum-seekers per month.

Ms Merkel has been insisting on a European solution to the issue rather than an ad hoc national approach like Hungary's decision to close its borders at the height of the crisis in 2015.

Mr Dobrint insisted the CSU did not object to European solutions, but added that action was needed more quickly "in order to restore order on the borders".

Mr Seehofer was a leading critic of Ms Merkel's welcoming stance in 2015 and has been taking an increasingly hard line ahead of Bavarian state elections this autumn.

He has now started to draw support for his ideas from Ms Merkel's own party, as well as from other countries.

Both Austria and Italy have seen parties with strong anti-migrant policies come to power since 2015, when Europe experienced a sharp rise in the number of people seeking shelter from conflicts and economic hardship elsewhere in the world.

On Wednesday in Berlin after meeting with Mr Seehofer, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz voiced support for his ideas, saying it made sense for Rome, Vienna and Berlin to work together on the migration issue.

"In our view, we need an 'axis of the willing' in the fight against illegal migration," Mr Kurz, whose country takes over the EU's rotating presidency July 1, told reporters.

In Vienna yesterday, Mr Kurz spoke about the importance of securing Europe's external borders and again suggested he was leaning toward national solutions.

"It is important that the governments and not the smugglers decide who comes to Europe," he said.

As Ms Merkel sought to find a compromise with Mr Seehofer, the top-selling 'Bild' newspaper reported that a three-hour crisis meeting ended just before midnight on Wednesday without a resolution.

In the meeting, Mr Seehofer reportedly insisted that if Ms Merkel adopted his solution for Germany, it would strengthen her hand in negotiating at a European level.

Ms Merkel's party signalled yesterday that it may be edging toward a solution, saying in a statement that people whose asylum applications had already been rejected by Germany should be turned away if they try to re-enter.

Irish Independent

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