Chancellor Angela Merkel and Horst Seehofer, the leader of Bavaria’s arch-conservative Christian Social Union, papered over their deep divisions on asylum policy during last year’s general election — but now they’re quarrelling again, and it’s torn a rift in her cabinet.
Mr. Seehofer, appointed as interior minister in the new government formed in March, has been forced to cancel the presentation of his “master plan for migration” today because Ms. Merkel is against his proposal to turn away asylum seekers at the border if they’ve already been registered in another EU country. His ministry tried to play down the delay: “Some points still need to be agreed upon,” said a spokeswoman. A new date has not been set.
Ms. Merkel doesn’t like the plan because it would amount to a reversal of her controversial open-door policy and would provoke neighbouring countries, especially Italy, whose new populist government has vowed to crack down on immigration, even refusing to let a rescue boat with more than 600 migrants dock on Sunday.
“I don’t want us to take unilateral national action,” she said about the plan.
Germany already has the legal right to reject asylum seekers under the European Union’s Dublin Regulation that states asylum claims must be handled in the country where migrants first arrive. But in practice, this rarely happens — last year, only 7,100 of 64,000 so-called Dublin cases were sent back. If they were all rejected immediately, the burden on Germany’s EU neighbors would increase sharply.
The EU is currently working on a reform of the system to stop asylum seekers quickly moving from the countries that first took them in. The German government wants those countries to be responsible for the regfugees for 10 years. Southern and eastern EU member states are bitterly opposed to that and want the duration to be shortened to just a few years.
As of late, Mr. Seehofer has been resorting to dog whistle rhetoric to woo sympathizers of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is expected to mount a strong challenge to his CSU party in a Bavarian regional election on October 14. Shortly after joining Ms. Merkel’s cabinet, he caused controversy by claiming “Islam is not a part of Germany,” rekindling a bogus debate in a country that is home to between four and five million Muslims.
The CSU is in no mood to back down.
Ms. Merkel is trying to defuse the row with Mr.Seehofer by offering concessions such as supporting his plan to speed up deportations of asylum seekers by building so-called “anchor centers” to house them from their arrival in Germany until their possible departure.
And at the EU level, she is pushing for tougher EU rules to prevent so-called “asylum shopping” — where asylum seekers move from one country to another until they find one that is willing to offer protection.
But the CSU is in no mood to back down. “We need a limit on access to Germany and that’s why we’ve got to start applying the Dublin process properly again,” said Joachim Herrmann, Bavaria’s state interior minister. “People who are already registered in another EU country have a right to a legal process there and therefore don’t require protection in our country. We can no longer accept asylum tourism.”
Opposition parties seized the cabinet’s dispute as an opportunity to attack Merkel’s conservative government. “Once again the conservatives are at risk of falling apart,” said lawmaker Stephan Thomae of the Free Democrats party. The center-left Social Democrats, with whom the conservatives share power in a loveless marriage, poured scorn on their partners: “Seehofer’s master plan is turning into a disaster plan for the conservatives,” said domestic policy spokesman Burkhard Lischka.
Till Hoppe is a Brussels correspondent for Handelsblatt. Frank Specht is a reporter in the Berlin bureau. Moritz Koch has been the Washington correspondent for Handelsblatt since 2013. To contact the authors: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org