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Merkel’s Government Avoids Collapse Over Migrant Battle, at Least for Now


BERLIN—German Chancellor

Angela Merkel

secured a two-week reprieve in her confrontation with her coalition partner on Monday, averting at least for now a collapse of her government over migrants.

Ms. Merkel clashed with longstanding ally

Horst Seehofer,

interior minister and chairman of the Bavarian sister party to her conservative bloc, last week after he threatened to go ahead with a plan she vetoed to start turning back some migrants at the German border.

After days of tense talks, Mr. Seehofer said Monday he would suspend implementation of the measure, giving Ms. Merkel time to negotiate an equivalent agreement with neighboring countries.

But in a clear sign that the conflict had been postponed rather than defused, Ms. Merkel said any decision made by Mr. Seehofer without her agreement—even in two weeks—would constitute a challenge to her authority.

No decision to turn back migrants at the border could be taken unilaterally, without consultation with the neighboring country or at another country’s expense, she said.

“It’s in Germany’s interest to control immigration in good partnership with our European neighbors,” she told a press conference in Berlin. “Turning people back in an uncoordinated manner… could end up calling into question European integration.”

President

Donald Trump

weighed in on the debate on Monday, writing in a tweet that “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition.”

The flare-up has put Ms. Merkel’s controversial 2015 decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers back at the center of the political debate in the EU’s largest state.

The arrival of some 1.4 million people over three years has scrambled politics in what had been among Europe’s most stable states, boosting support for anti-immigration populists, weakening mainstream parties, and digging a deep rift in Ms. Merkel’s conservative bloc.

Ms. Merkel argued that a unilateral policy would split Europe and prompt political clashes among member states strained by the migration crisis. Mr. Seehofer countered last week that it was the chancellor’s unilateral decision to open Germany’s borders that had fanned immigration fears.

Monday’s uneasy truce averts the threat of an immediate breakdown of the coalition, but it puts Ms. Merkel under pressure to deliver deals with European partners that would allow her government to better steer the flow of migrants into the country by July.

Speaking to journalists, Mr. Seehofer said turning back foreigners who had already applied for asylum in another European Union country or had been barred from entering the country was a legal requirement and a political necessity. Under EU rules, refugees must apply for asylum in the country where they first entered the bloc.

“We don’t have migration under control…people who are banned from entering Germany, as well as those who have applied for asylum or are registered as asylum seekers elsewhere in Europe should be turned back at the border,” he said.

A clear majority of 61% German voters want migrants with an open asylum application in another EU member state to be turned back, with two third insisting on a European resolution rather than a unilateral national approach, according to a poll of 1,001 people conducted by Forsa institute on June 15 for RTL/n-tv broadcasters.

Mr. Seehofer’s and Ms. Merkel’s parties have been jointly contesting elections for decades, but the CSU has grown increasingly impatient with her refugee agenda. Polls show rising support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany could cost the CSU its absolute majority in Bavaria at a regional election in October.

While making no concession on the substance of their dispute, Ms. Merkel and Mr. Seehofer appeared keen to lower the political temperature, making a point of using conciliatory language.

Both said they saw eye-to-eye on dozens of other measures Mr. Seehofer had been working on in order to reduce immigration, including slashing payouts to asylum seekers and replacing them with non-cash benefits.

Bavaria has been Germany’s frontline state in the migration crisis, with the biggest influx coming from neighboring Austria. A Civey poll found on Monday that 71% of voters in Bavaria would endorse a breakdown of the coalition if the CSU fails to implement its demands.

The EU asylum office said on Monday that the number of asylum applications in the bloc dropped to 728,470 in 2017 from almost 1.3 million the previous year.

According to the same data, over 53% of the accepted refugees in the EU, a bloc with a population of 300 million, live in Germany, which has 82 million people. Germany also recorded the highest number of asylum requests last year—222,560—a drop from 2016, when 745,155 applied for asylum.


Source : WSJ

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