On Wednesday, Germany’s vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel was meant to present the latest figures on the German economy. Instead, he gave an impassioned speech about the country’s strength and the refugee crisis.
It was one more contribution in the fierce, ongoing dispute about how to handle the influx of refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa.
As unprecedented numbers of people seeking asylum come to Germany, politicians are increasingly polarized over how to handle the situation and the divisions may threaten the governing coalition of Social Democrats and Christian Democrats.
On Thursday afternoon, Germany’s governing politicians will meet to consider measures to manage the crisis, including the question whether refugees can bring their families to Germany too.
Mr. Gabriel is not only minister of economics in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition, he is also the deputy chancellor, as well as the leader of the Social Democrats, the junior coalition partner. His speech about the refugee crisis was a balancing act, downplaying splits in the cabinet, while also defending his party’s record in the crisis.
“We’re not fighting each other in government,” Mr. Gabriel said – in fact, the cabinet was “working together quite well.” He acknowledged the tension between Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union, their fractious Bavarian sister party. But, said Mr. Gabriel, it was important the government did not give the impression that it has lost control.
On Thursday, two key meetings will take place. First, a summit of the three party leaders, with Ms. Merkel and Mr. Gabriel meeting Horst Seehofer, the head of the CSU with a stubbornly tough stance on the migration question.
Directly afterwards, the chancellor will meet the premiers of the 16 federal states. Their state governments are responsible for much of the day-to-day handling of the refugee influx.
This week, politicians have raised the difficulties local authorities are facing as they process unprecedented numbers of people seeking asylum. State leaders, regardless of their party affiliation, will be looking to see progress on concrete issues of provision and integration.